Class action suit claims Uber puts profits over female passenger safety

SAN FRANCISCO – On Nov. 14, two women, identified as Jane Doe 1, a resident of Miami, Fla. and Jane Doe 2, a resident of Los Angeles, Calif., filed a class action complaint against Uber Technologies, Inc. claiming Uber’s message to women is basically “Our profits over your safety.”

According to the complaint, “Since Uber launched in 2010, thousands of female passengers have endured unlawful conduct by their Uber drivers including rape, sexual assault, physical violence and gender-motivated harassment. Recently, the number of reported sexual assaults and rapes of female passengers by male Uber drivers has sky-rocketed.”

The lawsuit alleges Uber, over the past seven years, has utilized low-cost, “woefully inadequate” background checks for its drivers while failing to monitor drivers for any violent or inappropriate conduct after they’re hired and states, “Nothing meaningful has been done to make rides safer for passengers – especially women.”

In order to sidestep state and local regulatory scrutiny that taxi and limousine drivers are subjected to, Uber labels itself a “technology platform” company rather than a “transportation” company, allowing Uber to avoid spending more money on driver screening and to avoid regulatory measures directed at safety.

The complaint suggests numerous safety measures Uber could implement to drastically reduce harm to female passengers, including:

  1. Bar registered sex offenders or individuals with assault or rape convictions (no time limit) from becoming Uber drivers;
  2. Require all Uber drivers nationwide to undergo in-person screening interviews and vehicle examinations;
  3. Install tamper-proof video cameras in all Uber vehicles which immediately set off alarms if they are disabled or malfunction;
  4. Perform national criminal background checks of all drivers every six months;
  5. Voluntarily submit driver information to states that wish to conduct their own screening through state maintained criminal databases, such as in Maryland and Massachusetts;
  6. Require drivers to inform Uber within 24 hours if they have been indicted or charged on any felony involving physical force, violence or weapons, including kidnapping, or misdemeanors involving physical or sexual conduct;
  7. Require drivers to inform Uber within 24 hours of physical restraining orders issued in domestic violence matters; and
  8. A number of other recommendations including the use of facial recognition software and/or fingerprinting, require GPS tracking systems in their cars that trigger alarms if turned off, disabling child-lock features, in-app panic buttons that send messages to Uber, local police and a designated safety contact, and more.

Had these measures been in place, the complaint claims thousands of women would have been spared the pain and humiliation suffered at the hands of their Uber drivers.

However, it claims Uber’s goal to dominate and control the “ridehailing” market at the expense of consumer safety “is a calculated decision made by senior executives that continues through the present.”

The complaint not only details the sexual assaults Uber drivers committed against Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, it raises the Oct. 31, 2017 terrorist attack in lower Mmanhattan, where Sayfullo Saipov, 29, intentionally drove a rental truck into a crowded pedestrian and bicycle path, killing eight people and seriously injuring 11 others.

Shortly after Saipov was arrested, Uber released a public statement disclosing he was a driver for Uber that same day.

Uber said Saipov passed its background check to become a driver and had been actively driving on the Uber app for more than six months.

The complaint asserts Uber’s background checks of potential drivers is inherently flawed and the background checking methods used by Uber cannot assure passengers that the driver does not have a history of violence or other background information that would cause “a reasonable company to make further inquiries into a potential driver’s history.”

The application process to become an Uber driver is entirely online and involves filling out a few short forms and uploading photos of a driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. However, drivers are not required to show that they own the vehicle that will be used to transport passengers.

Additionally, at no point does Uber verify that the person applying to drive is uploading his or her own personal documents, including his or her own profile photo.

As a result, the lawsuit contends, numerous drivers have registered to drive on the Uber app by using falsified identities, false social security numbers, false driver’s licenses and false photos.

Some of the systems Uber utilizes to perform background checks simply run potential drivers’ social security numbers through record databases, similar to those held by credit agencies, which only go back seven years and do not capture all arrests and/or convictions.

For example, if a potential driver was convicted of a violent crime ten years prior to applying, Uber would have no way of knowing such facts and turns a blind eye when it comes to any acts that may have occurred prior to the arbitrary seven-year cut-off.

Uber also fails to conduct a seven-year review of any information for drivers who have resided in the United States for less than that time and ignores any period beyond the records it can obtain in the United States.

The complaint points out Uber’s faulty and defective screening of drivers’ histories was recently exposed by the states of Massachusetts and Maryland.

In January 2017, Uber and Lyft, a similar ridehailing app, were required to subject drivers to state-run background checks. This additional screening was intended for drivers that had already passed Uber’s and Lyft’s background checks.

Out of the approximately 70,789 Uber and Lyft drivers checked, 8,206 drivers were rejected by the state’s screening, of which 1,599 drivers were found to have a history of violent crime.

Incredibly, the Uber and Lyft background checks also failed to identify 51 registered sex offenders.

In Dec. 2016, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved alternative background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers after both companies claimed that their background screening processes were more comprehensive than fingerprint-base checks.

Maryland required more stringent background checks, including written confirmation that Uber and Lyft have verified the identity of the driver and extended the background checks to the applicant’s entire adult life.

In April 2017, figures released by the state since implementing the expanded background checks, revealed, of the 70,999 Uber applicants, 4,310 were rejected for reasons that included criminal convictions not caught by Uber’s “more comprehensive” background checks.

In October 2017, Maryland PSC reported, over the previous six months, nearly 15 percent of new ridehailing drivers were rejected and banned from driving in Maryland, despite passing Uber’s and Lyft’s background checks.

Of those rejected, Maryland PCS reported 95 percent of the individuals rejected were drivers for Uber, including at least 460 drivers banned because of “disqualifying criminal histories.”

Other issues raised in the complaint had to do with insurance, whereas Uber drivers were surprised to learn their personal insurers disclaimed coverage once it determined the driver was providing transportation for Uber. Most insurers would require drivers to purchase commercial coverage, which could be cost prohibitive for an Uber driver.

“For rapes, sexual assaults or other gender-motivated violence that takes place when the driver turns off his app or exits the vehicle and commits the violence outside the vehicle, on the street or even several hundred feet from the vehicle, Uber’s policies state that the Company is not responsible for harm during this ‘gap.’”

Because Uber fails to address this concern, over thirty states have issued public consumer warnings about the lack of insurance coverage involved with rides on the Uber app.

The relief sought in the complaint includes entry of a permanent injunction directing Uber to immediately implement stricter and more thorough screening of potential Uber drivers as well as subject existing Uber drivers to an immediate review of conduct engaged in by all drivers during the last 12 months; implement a policy to monitor driver conduct after they have been accepted to drive on the app; implement changes to provides a means to monitor rides during transport an centralize methods to quickly notify Uber when a driver has gone off the app during a ride or substantially driven off route during an ongoing ride; and implement adequate insurance coverage for all stages of a ride and clearly inform the public about its insurance coverage polices, and an award of damages to be determined at trial.

Another complaint was filed in October 2015 by two women who were sexually assaulted by their Uber drivers.

The complaint points out how Uber markets itself extensively as the best option for a safe ride home after a night of drinking.

In fact, Uber commissioned a report with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in which it declared, “When empowered with more transportation options like Uber, people are making better choices that save lives.”

Uber went on to claim, “Uber and MADD are working toward a world where a safe ride is always within reach and where drunk-driving is a thing of the past.”

Uber would even use taglines at concerts such as “Drink up & Uber on.”

The complaint goes on to state, “But what Uber does not share with riders is that making the choice to hail a ride after drinking also puts them in peril from Uber drivers themselves. By marketing heavily toward young women who have been drinking while claiming that rider safety is its #1 priority, Uber is instead putting women at risk.”

In that case, Jane Doe 1 was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver named Abderrahim Dakiri in Boston, Mass.

It states, “The Uber app was used to arrange a ride to take Jane Doe 1 and several friends home. After dropping off her friends, Dakiri took Jane Doe 1 on an off-route detour to her destination, during which he took the opportunity to sexually assault her.”

Jane Doe 2 was sexually assaulted in Charleston, S.C. by an Uber Driver named Patrick Aiello.

After dropping off her friend, under the guise of driving Jane Doe 2 home, Aiello instead took her on an off-route detour, during which he took the opportunity to viciously rape her.

Uber settled that case for an undisclosed amount in November 2016.

Just yesterday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced he recently learned in late 2016 Uber became aware of a breach of user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service it uses.

The information accessed included the names and driver license numbers of around 600,000 Uber drivers in the United States and some personal information of 57 million Uber users around the world, including names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers.

In a statement released on Nov. 21, 2017, Khosrowshahi said, “You may be asking why we are just talking about this now, a year later. I had the same question, so I immediately asked for a thorough investigation of what happened and how we handled it. What I learned, particularly around our failure to notify affected individuals or regulators last year, has prompted me to take several actions:

  • We are individually notifying the drivers whose driver’s license numbers were downloaded.
  • We are providing these drivers with free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.
  • We are notifying regulatory authorities.
  • While we have not seen evidence of fraud or misuse tied to the incident, we are monitoring the affected accounts and have flagged them for additional fraud protection.”

He also stated, “Effective today, two of the individuals who led the response to this incident are no longer with the company.”

Khosrowshahi said even though none of this should have happened, he can’t erase the past and can only commit to learning from their mistakes by changing the way they do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision they make and working hard to earn the trust of their customers.