2 women sue Uber, al­leg­ing sex­ual as­sault by drivers; class-ac­tion sta­tus sought

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS -

Two women have filed suit against Uber, al­leg­ing that in­ad­e­quate driver back­ground checks and mon­i­tor­ing left them and thou­sands of oth­ers vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual as­sault.

The women from Florida and Cal­i­for­nia are not iden­ti­fied in the fed­eral law­suit filed Tues­day in San Fran­cisco. Each al­leges be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted by an Uber driver who gave her a ride home.

Uber says it re­ceived the com­plaint Tues­day and is re­view­ing it. “Th­ese al­le­ga­tions are im­por­tant to us and we take them very se­ri­ously,” the ride-hail­ing firm said in a state­ment.

The law­suit seeks class-ac­tion sta­tus and al­leges that Uber has done noth­ing mean­ing­ful to stem an “ex­po­nen­tial in­crease” in sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault re­ports. It al­leges that Uber mar­kets to young women trav­el­ing alone and puts prof­its over their safety.

“Over the last seven years, Uber has done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to con­tinue us­ing low-cost, woe­fully in­ad­e­quate back­ground checks on drivers and has failed to mon­i­tor drivers for any vi­o­lent or in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct af­ter they are hired,” the law­suit states.

It asks the court for un­spec­i­fied da­m­ages to com­pen­sate the women, and also seeks cour­tordered safety mea­sures in­clud­ing fin­ger­print back­ground checks for drivers and a panic but­ton on the Uber app that would alert the com­pany and au­thor­i­ties to safety prob­lems.

The law­suit was filed by the New York firm Wig­dor LLP, which is su­ing Uber in a sep­a­rate case on be­half of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in In­dia. The firm also is su­ing Fox News on be­half of em­ploy­ees who al­lege race dis­crim­i­na­tion and sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

This month, Uber pledged $5 mil­lion dur­ing the next five years to fund sex­ual as­sault pre­ven­tion groups as well as train its own em­ploy­ees. Uber says the groups have helped it train 150 cus­tomer ser­vice agents for a team to deal with sex­ual as­sault re­ports. They’ve learned how to in­ter­view vic­tims with­out be­ing judg­men­tal, and how to re­fer them to po­lice and a cri­sis hot­line.

Uber’s image has been tar­nished by find­ings of sex­ual ha­rass­ment of em­ploy­ees and mul­ti­ple re­ports of drivers as­sault­ing pas­sen­gers. Other in­dus­tries have also re­cently come un­der fire as women have been com­ing for­ward with com­plaints of sex­ual as­sault, in­clud­ing in Hol­ly­wood.

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