on Tuesday announced a major shift in the way it handles sexual assault and harassment cases, which will put an end to the company's culture of silencing victims.
Starting immediately, customers with assault claims against Uber drivers will no longer be forced to pursue their cases through arbitration. If they wish they will now be able to have their cases heard in open court and they will no longer be forced to sign nondisclosure agreements. Victims of alleged sexual assault still won't be able to bring class action suits against the company, however.
In a blog post titled "Turning the lights on," the ride-hailing company's chief legal officer, Tony West, explained that assault victims will now have a choice of venues and processes when it comes to having their cases heard. "We have learned it's important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims," he said.
Uber will also publish a a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur through its platform.
It's a huge about-turn for the company, which until now has silenced victims by insisting on mandatory arbitration and confidentiality provisions. But for critics of the company, it's long overdue. Mounting political and regulatory pressure over the past year has forced the company to take a long, hard look at the way it deals with complaints against drivers and how it discusses its safety record in public.
Last September Uber lost its license to operate in London, one of its most important markets outside of the US, in part due to concerns over how it handled sexual assault allegations. At the beginning of May, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi calling on him to release reported sexual assault survivors from their private arbitration agreements and let them sue the company in court. He said such agreements "silence" victims.
In his blog post, West said that some assault survivors desire confidentiality, but acknowledged that "divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us."
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