Uber is reversing the controversial policies on sexual harassment and assault claims that have beleaguered the ride-share company, including quietly settling with victims.
Now, people who file misconduct claims against the company may pursue them in open court, Uber announced.
“The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community,” Uber said Tuesday. “Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution.”
The Silicon Valley-based company spent more than a year battling a wave of scandals, including allegations it fostered a hostile work environment rampant with sexual harassment.
That’s carried into its policies for addressing sexual misconduct on the part of its passengers and drivers.
Uber will no longer force claims immediately into arbitration, a policy previously engrained into its terms of service.
Instead, claims can be addressed however an employee, driver or passenger who’s been assaulted chooses, the company said. That still includes arbitration as well as court or mediation.
The company’s past policy of keeping all claims confidential is also being scrubbed. Those who opt to reach a settlement will now be free to speak publicly about the allegations.
As many as 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. were found to have acted inappropriately toward passengers since 2014, a CNN investigation published last month found.
Uber on Tuesday said it will release data on sexual assault or harassment in Uber vehicles.
Chief Legal Officer Tony West wrote in a blog post that the report should highlight the complicated issue of reporting assault in the taxi and limousine issue.
“Our message to the world is that we need to turn the lights on,” he wrote. “It starts with improving our product and policies, but it requires so much more, and we’re in it for the long haul.”
The reoport is slated to be released by the end of 2018, and West told the Associated Press there’s speculation “the numbers are going to be disturbing.”
Company executives have taken steps to fix some of the ills plaguing Uber over the last year.
Last month, it announced drivers would be subjected to criminal background checks to weed out bad actors, and provide other safety measures for vehicles using the platform.
Uber was accused last year of running a toxic office environment lacking diversity, with an internal report noting most of its engines were white males.
Founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was booted last June amid news Uber used questionable technology to track competing car services and covering up a major data breach.
Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO last August, addressed the broader problems at Uber in a video released Monday, vowing the compan would start owning its mistakes.
“One of our core values as a company is to always do the right thing,” he said. “And if there are times we fall short, we commit to being open, taking responsibility for the problem and fixing it.”
New York’s ‘Taxi King’ ordered to pay $1.3m in sexual harassment case
New York’s “Taxi King” Gene Freidman has been hit with a $1.34m judgment over claims he sexually harassed and later retaliated against a former assistant.
Freidman, a former business associate of Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, was accused of subjecting employee Elaine Gutierrez to a range of abuse.
He was alleged to have made explicit comments about her body in private and in front of groups of associates, including according to Gutierrez’s complaint, saying: “Get your big boobs out of my face,” and even commenting to other men in the room: “Did you see her boobs?” and “Do you know Elaine rubbed them big boobs on me?”
Freidman was also accused of throwing papers on the floor and forcing Gutierrez to pick them up, and on occasion harassing her in front of her 10-year-old daughter. In 2017, Gutierrez was fired in what was described by her counsel as “a blatant act of retaliation for speaking out against the harassment”.
Gutierrez’s lawyer, Lawrence Pearson, said in a statement: “In the #MeToo era, the message is clear: no one, not even the so-called ‘Taxi King’, is above the law when it comes to workplace sexual harassment.”
In May, it was reported that Freidman had agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness as part of a plea deal on tax evasion charges relating to his taxi medallion business. At one point his company owned 900 medallions, the licenses to run yellow cabs in New York.
Under the agreement Freidman will avoid jail time and will assist federal and state prosecutors in investigations. That, in turn, puts pressure on Cohen, who in the southern district of New York.
Cohen was a partner in Freidman’s taxi business for years and is believed to own around 20 New York medallions in his own right. But that is a minor holding compared to Freidman, who told Bloomberg in 2015 that he owned 1,100.
At their peak in 2103, medallions were auctioned off for a record $1.32m each. But the rise of Uber and Lyft has caused their value to collapse to under $200,000.
In July 2015, the New York state tax authorities named four of Freidman’s taxi companies among the state’s top 250 delinquent business taxpayers.
Almost a year later, the then New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, placed an independent monitor to oversee Freidman’s financial records and business dealings after the Taxi King failed to comply with a 2013 ruling that he must pay drivers the money they were owed.
Las Vegas taxi drivers to boycott Strip hotels
The battle between taxi cabs and rideshare companies continues on the Las Vegas Strip this weekend.
A grassroots group known as Vegas Drivers Unite claim they have started to boycott several different Strip hotel-casinos in an effort to fight back against rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
On their website, the group says participating cabbies plan not to pick up any passenger from New York-New York hotel-casino for 72 hours starting Thursday morning and continuing every week for the rest of the month.
Last month, the group said they boycotted the Bellagio and next month they plan to boycott Mandalay Bay and Delano.
The grassroots group said they are fighting back against the takeover of rideshare companies.
Earlier this year, the Taxi Cab Authority released numbers showing a decline in taxi ridership in 2017. They claim ridership has been declining the past three years and millions of dollars are being lost.
Vegas Drivers Unite said they hope by not showing up at these locations, then casinos, hotels and community leaders will take notice of the importance of taxis and drive rideshare companies out of the resort corridor.
Las Vegas local Sierra Snow said she preferred taking rideshares because they are “cheaper”.
“It has been years [since I’ve taken a taxi],” Snow said.
While out-of-towner Doug Jim said he preferred the convenience of a taxi cab even if he has to pay extra fees.
“I paid extra fees but my taxi driver had a big kerfuffle with the Uber drivers, so I’m kind of on his side,” Jim said.
13 Action News did reach out to Vegas Drivers Unite to get an idea of how many drivers were participating in the boycott but have not heard back. Drivers are not required to participate as it is a grassroots effort.
Uber driver who kicked out lesbian couple getting taxi license back
A New York City judge this week sided with an Uber driver whose taxi license was suspended after he kicked a lesbian couple out of his car.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) suspended Ahmad El Boutari’s license last month after a lesbian couple accused him of discrimination.
He reportedly told the women to leave his car after they kissed.
The women, Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl, described the kiss as a “peck,” but El Boutari claims that the couple went further and “were about to have sex in the car.”
Judge Joycelyn McGeachy-Kuls wrote in her Monday decision that TLC did not provide sufficient evidence that El Boutari discriminated against the passengers on the basis of sexual orientation, and recommended that his license be reinstated.
“Respondent credibly testified that he asked the complainants to get out of his car because their conduct violated Uber’s policy prohibiting sexual contact between passengers,” she wrote.
The case went before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings after TLC suspended El Boutari’s license.
The incident went viral after Iovine posted a video of the confrontation online, in which the couple can be seen arguing with El Boutari.
McGeachy-Kuls wrote in her decision that it “seems unlikely” that El Boutari would have asked the women to leave his car over a “peck kiss” because it would have resulted in him giving up the fare and risking a bad Uber rating from the passengers. She also said that the couple gave conflicting testimony to Uber, TLC and at the OATH hearing, according to the New York Post.
An Uber spokesperson told NBC News that the company has removed El Boutari’s access to the Uber app, and that the company has been in touch with Iovine and Pichl about the incident.
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