Uber is the second technology powerhouse in the past year to do away with requiring employers or customers to settle sexual misconduct complaints in private. Critics say forced arbitration shields predators and promotes a culture of silence.
As the #MeToo movement ousted powerful men across industries, Microsoft announced in December that it would allow employees to sue the company for sexual harassment, rather than handle the matter behind closed doors, and it encouraged other companies to do the same.
Uber also said it plans to release a report as early as next year on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault on the platform — a move that follows a class-action lawsuit in California that alleges the $72 billion company has failed to protect passengers from sexual predators.
“Once we are able to really begin to shine a light on these things, it equips us better to actually deal with the issue,” Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, told The Washington Post.
Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took the helm eight months ago, has pledged to overhaul Uber’s culture. The company gained a reputation for rampant sexism last year after Susan Fowler, a former engineer, wrote a viral blog post about harassment and retaliation she said she faced on the job.
Uber subsequently launched an investigation into its corporate environment, which led to the firing of 20 staffers for sexual harassment, bullying and other causes.
The app took another reputation hit in April, when a CNN analysis of police reports and court records found that at least 103 Uber drivers in the United States have been accused of some form of sexual assault in the past four years. (The outlet reported that 31 drivers have been convicted of sexual crimes, including forcible touching and rape.)
Some lawmakers had urged Uber to waive binding arbitration for sexual harassment complaints.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued in a letter to Khosrowshahi earlier this month that the practice allows corporations to “cover up wrongdoing.”
In April, California state leaders introduced a bill that would bar companies from requiring workers to settle complaints in arbitration.
Uber will continue to require nondisclosure agreements when it comes to the specifics of financial settlements. And racial and gender discrimination complaints will be resolved in private.
“But we have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims,” the company said in a statement. “So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer.”
More than half of American workers have signed employment contracts that bar them from suing their employer for sexual harassment, gender or racial discrimination, according to a 2017 study from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said Uber’s step reflects a shift in corporate America. “It’s how a company is going to need to act if they want to regain public trust,” he said.
In Uber’s case, the company is trying to win back riders lost to Lyft, which doubled its ridership last year after the sexual harassment complaints.
“They know where the wind is blowing here,” Rheingold said. “They understand how their reputation will suffer if consumers perceive them as using arbitration to hide bad behavior.”