Just over a year ago, an ex-Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, stepped forward with a harrowing tale of sexual harassment at her former company. That revelation kicked off 2017’s annus horribilis, a year during which Uber saw itself bouncing from one crisis to the next. The saga ultimately resulted in cofounder Travis Kalanick being booted from the CEO job.
On Tuesday morning, Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, published a lengthy blog post proclaiming the end of mandatory arbitration for anyone (driver, rider, employee) associated with a claim of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
Uber is not the first major tech company to announce this change: Microsoft announced a similar move in December 2017.
Arbitration is a private, quasi-legal procedure originally designed to expedite disputes between corporations. Hearings have the trappings of a court hearing—arbitrators are often retired judges—except that they are wholly private. Even worse for consumers is that in the world of arbitration, there is no possibility of class-action claims. Arbitration proceedings are additionally nearly always shrouded from public view, so it is traditionally difficult to find out how many other people have been affected by the same issue.
“So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court,” West wrote. “Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.”
Additionally, if someone is unfortunately subjected to sexual harassment or assault, no matter how they seek to adjudicate that claim (whether arbitration, mediation, or traditional litigation in a public court) Uber won’t force them to agree to stay quiet about their experience. “Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories,” he continued. “Enabling survivors to make this choice will help to end the culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence.”
Finally, West said the company would “commit” to publishing a “safety transparency report,” as a way to “turn the lights on” against this scourge.
“We’re working with experts in the field to develop a taxonomy to categorize the incidents that are reported to us,” he concluded. “We hope to open-source this methodology so we can encourage others in the ridesharing, transportation and travel industries, both private and public, to join us in taking this step. We know that a project of this magnitude will take some time, but we pledge to keep you updated along the way.”
Since taking over from Kalanick, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has tried to right the ship. Not long after he took the job late last year, he wrote his own blog post in which he proclaimed: “We do the right thing. Period.”
Months later, he oversaw Uber’s settlement in a high-profile trade secrets lawsuit brought by Waymo.