Ride-hailing companies Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc scrapped mandatory arbitration to settle sexual harassment or assault claims, giving victims several options to pursue their claims including public lawsuits.
Forced arbitration is common to many industries and allows companies to keep sexual misconduct claims out of the court system and away from public view, the Times said.
Uber, which has formally responded in court, said the women will now have the choice of bringing their individual assault claims to arbitration, meditation or open court.
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Uber's ride-hailing service will give its US passengers and drivers more leeway to pursue claims of sexual misconduct, its latest attempt to shed its reputation for brushing aside bad behavior.
"We think it is very, very important to allow survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment the control and agency that was, frankly, stripped from them in that incident", Uber's chief legal officer, Tony West, told CNN in a phone interview.
The changes governing sexual misconduct come a month after Uber announced it will do criminal background checks on its USA drivers annually and add a 911 button for summoning help in emergencies.
Uber has agreed to change their terms of service which previously required Uber passengers that were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers to enter arbitration, CNN reports. However, the numbers suggest that there may be many more overall incidents of sexual assault than the cases found in the investigation.
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Uber is shifting its stance after receiving an open letter from the NY law firm Wigdor LLP, which already has filed a lawsuit seeking to be certified as a class action representing women who allege they have been raped, sexually harassed or abused in other ways by Uber drivers. Uber argued that the women will have to bring other claims in the suit, including unfair business practices, to an arbitrator.
Uber became the second major company to end forced arbitration clauses, after Microsoft Corp said in December victims would no longer need to settle cases privately.
Jeanne Christensen, a Wigdor partner, congratulated Uber for shedding the arbitration policy, a move she said "will begin a process to reduce future suffering by women passengers".
"As bold and far reaching as this announcement and decision is, and as unique as it is, it won't give everything to everybody", West said.
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