Tuesday, San Francisco, two anonymous women filed a class action rape suit against Uber. Their case is based on the premise that Uber uses poor driver background checks which allow for too many bad drivers access to public transport and endangers thousands of female passengers. The two plaintiffs claim that Uber tries to reduce costs by performing only rudimentary screening and monitoring of its drivers and all in the name of profiteering.
Ubers background checks have been undergoing a lot of scrutiny in many states and only recently have fingerprinting been removed as a state requirement, while the State of Maryland actually vets every Uber application and has denied nearly 60% of driver applications due to inconsistencies with their application of which 40% were for failed background checks.
Uber is not new to these lawsuits, only recently a woman in India claimed that not only was she raped but that Uber executives in India managed to get their hands on her medical records with the intention of tampering with them, which would have led to her case being discredited.
Uber has gone a long way from the days of Travis Kalanick, and now under the new management is trying to remove the stains of the old regime. It is in the middle of changing its corporate culture, its internal policies and changing its media relations as well as the global perception of what Uber now stands for.
The complaint placed in San Francisco states that; "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 two went on to add that the company was trying to change its image by hiding the truth and claiming it is only a "technology platform" thereby avoiding regulations that would make their drivers follow the same requirements that limousine drivers must pass.
Uber's response was to claim that is learning about the company told USA Today that "These allegations are important to us and we take them very seriously."
An employee or Independent Contractor?
The complaint goes to the core of the issue, is Uber an employer, offering a service that provides transportation to customers or is it an app that connects drivers to passengers. One issue that the courts will have to deliberate on is the Uber driver contracts; the other is whether and Uber Driver and Uber Customer are in fact separate entities from Uber or part of one cooperative package.
Screening and Fingerprinting
A further allegation made by the complaint is that Uber drivers do not undergo the same strenuous screening requirements that public drivers such as Taxi, Bus, and Limousine drivers have to undergo when applying for a job, including criminal background checks with fingerprinting. This allegation is now supported by a recent decision passed in CA.
The decision to fingerprint an employee for taxi service is either a company or local government decision, and LA, SD, and SF all require mandatory fingerprinting for taxi driver applicants. Dave Sutton claimed that the fingerprints were crucial for full background checks and provided local law enforcement and the FBI access to applicant information. He went on to claim that all law enforcement agencies state quite emphatically that fingerprinting is a far superior checking method.
The CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph wrote, "Although we recognize the public's familiarity with fingerprinting, we do not see that a demonstratively greater level of safety would be added over and above the current background-check protocols."
These new regulations announced on October 4th, 2017 direct ridesharing companies to perform mandatory annual driver screening through nationally accredited third-party companies. In 2016, the State lawmakers banned all ridesharing companies from employing registered sex offenders or people that were convicted of violent felony crimes.
In defense of the decision, commissions decided that background checks performed by Uber and Lyft through their third-party companies satisfy the mandated policies as set out by the commissions public policy for safety. They went on to state that fingerprinting was only as good as the updated databases provided by courts and law enforcement agencies. They also stated that livescan ID software negates the requirement for fingerprinting.
Drastic Changes for Female Safety
Due to a number of rape and sexual harassment charges being brought up against Uber and other ridesharing company drivers all over the US, one of the partners placing the suit is from law firm Wigdor LLP of New York City, Jeanne Christensen, who stated "must come forward with information about how many reports it has received about rapes, sexual assaults and gender-motivated harassment to allow consumers to assess whether Uber really does provide safe rides, especially to women".
Wigdor is known for representing sexual harassment and rape cases, bit just in the US but also for women around the world They represented the Indian woman in Delhi who accused her Uber driver of raping her back in 2014 as well as representing clients in discrimination cases against Fox news.
There have been a number of rape cases against Uber drivers, for instance
Former Uber driver, Gary Kitchings, 58 years old married man from Brevard County, was arrested by Jupiter Police and charged with false imprisonment, one count of burglary with assault or battery and two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force. The alleged victim accusing him stated that he picked her up from the May SunFest and on the way home kidnapped her, battered her and raped her in the car and in her home. Kitching's a married foster care parent was removed from Uber as well as losing his foster care status was living and working as a house parent for KidSanctuary Campus, a West Palm Beach foster home. Kitchings defense attorney stated that the encounter was for consensual sex and was fun and exciting. After he dropped off the passenger at her home, he went on to pick up another rider from West Palm Beach and drove them to Wellington.
In another case in South Miami, a woman accused her driver Nimer Abdullah of taking advantage of her inebriated state and carrying her upstairs into her home and then jumping on top of her. The victim's house partner hid in the bathroom and fainted from fear. The next morning the victim woke up naked and covered in semen stains. The victim contacted the police who arrested Nimer, and he was arrested and convicted. Uber's response was to return her driver fee of $9.51 while stating that it would be "taking the appropriate action here." Up till now, no one knows what that action was if it was at all.