Yesterday, Uber Technologies Inc. settled a lawsuit filed by two women who claimed drivers for the popular ride-hailing app sexually assaulted them. The women in this case, known only collectively as Jane Doe, claimed their drivers either diverted the trip’s route or waited to drop off other riders before the assaults occurred. The settlement comes just six months after a judge ruled that the company could not dismiss the lawsuit merely because it classifies its drivers as contractors, not employees.
It’s the first major stateside victory for hundreds of women who have been leveling harassment charges against the company for years. (In 2015, the company settled with a New Dehli woman who claimed her Uber driver raped and beat her.) According to an official report from Uber, between December 2012 and August 2015, only 175 sexual assault complaints were brought against the company. A BuzzFeed report published in March of this year, however, found that 6,160 claims of sexual assault had been logged by the company’s customer support.
The judge’s decision in May, which lead to the settlement, outlined that Uber cannot legally absolve itself of responsibility when customers file complaints about driver misconduct, even after the driver has turned off the app, thus signaling that the ride is over. The settlement sheds light on Uber’s enduring battle with the public over its safety measures. The company has notoriously resisted requiring fingerprinted background checks for its drivers. Instead, the company checks applicants’ names against court records. But that system isn’t working. In April, Uber settled another civil lawsuit with district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco that alleged the company mislead riders about the safety and effectiveness of their screening methods. The lawsuit also required Uber to stop advertising their safety procedures as “the gold standard.”
That’s because in the case of an emergency during your ride, there isn’t much you can do. You can send your location to a friend or call the police, but in terms of reporting an incident through the app itself, you’re out of luck. While Uber promised to test in Chicago a “panic button”, which is live in India and South Africa, almost two years ago, it’s hasn’t followed through.
The company has reiterated that the only real panic button you can count on is 911. Otherwise, the only safety measures riders have is Uber’s customer service email address, where you can report an incident, and a one-star rating. Poor ratings don’t mean the company will automatically take the driver off the road, though. Uber instead asks riders to protect themselves by riding with friends (which is basically impossible) or keeping 911 on speed dial. Still, it’s not unreasonable that in 2016, people should be able to pay for a ride from a company worth billions of dollars without the fear of being assaulted in the process. The public is not holding Uber to an impossible standard here. We’re just asking for common decency.