Uber handed class-action lawsuit from riders alleging sexual assault

A man arrives at the Uber offices in Queens New York U.S. Feb. 2 2017

Two women are suing Uber for allegedly misrepresenting the safety of its platform.

In the suit, filed today in U.S. District Court in Northern California, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 describe being raped by Uber drivers.

The lawsuit is seeking compensation for rapes, assaults, and harassment that riders have experienced - specifically passengers who were "subject to assault or gender-motivated violence or harassment by their Uber driver in the last four years".

But the question at the heart of this new case is one that Uber has been navigating since its inception: Are its background checks thorough enough? The suit claims that this isn't a case of "rogue" drivers, but that Uber has created a system that allows for "bad actors to gain access to vulnerable victims". As the lawsuit notes, "since a driver may be technically "off app" in these situations, Uber disclaims all responsibility for a driver's conduct". Other background checks, like fingerprinting, says the complaint, would go further back.

In the complaint, the women argue that Uber driver screenings only go back seven years.

The complaint contends that Uber is putting thousands of women at risk of being attacked by Uber drivers because the company has prioritized growth over safety. "These allegations are important to us and we take them very seriously", an Uber spokesperson said.

Uber has yet another lawsuit on its hands.

For a detailed account of Uber's background check policies, read the Recode piece. The state then made a decision to amend its background checks to include more applicants, but still refused to pass applicants with a history sexual assault, violent crime, or concerning driving records.

The women are requesting damages for their own alleged assaults along with an injunction against the company that would require it to conduct more rigorous background checks on its drivers and change other company practices.

In addition to asking a court to mandate that Uber implement fingerprint background checks - a measure the company has vehemently opposed - the plaintiffs are asking a judge to order Uber to perform national criminal background checks on its drivers every six months, bar registered sex offenders or people with rape or assault convictions from driving from Uber no matter how long ago it was, and other measures.

Uber has been criticized for poorly handling sexual assault and harassment allegations - both within its corporate departments and by drivers - several times in the past years.

It says Uber has skirted regulators by classifying itself as a technology company but it is essentially a taxi company with drivers that should be considered employees.

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