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Tag Archives: sexual-harassment

Former software engineer accuses Uber of “degrading conduct” toward women in new lawsuit

A former Uber software engineer filed a lawsuit against the company today in the Superior Court of California, accusing it of retaliating against her for after she reported sexual harassment and discrimination. The complaint by Ingrid Avendaño, who worked at Uber from 2014 to 2017, alleges that Uber’s workplace “was permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory and sexually harassing conduct toward women.” Avendaño’s account and her claim that “this culture was perpetuated and condoned by numerous managers, including high level company leaders” is similar to the description of Uber’s internal culture presented by Susan Fowler, also a former Uber engineer, in her pivotal  February 2017 blog post . Fowler’s account led to an internal investigation, multiple firings and, along with other company scandals, contributed to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. Avendaño’s complaint (“Ingrid Avendaño v. Uber Technologies, Inc.,” Case No. CGC-18-566677 in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco County) claims that when she tried to report misconduct, she faced “blatant retaliation, including denial of promotions and raises, unwarranted negative performance reviews and placement on an oppressively demanding on-call schedule that had detrimental effects on her health. She was also threatened with termination.” Avendaño eventually resigned from Uber, the lawsuit says. Avendaño is represented by Outten & Golden, a law firm that specializes in employee rights. Last October, Avendaño and two other Latina software engineers were the named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Uber for allegedly discriminating against women and people of color. But Avendaño later opted out of the collective action and, according to Outten & Golden, did not participate when Uber agreed to a settlement in March 2018. The lawsuit filed by Avendaño today is separate from that settlement.

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Uber ends policy of forced arbitration for individual sexual assault claims

In a major policy change for its US operations, Uber has announced it’s ending mandatary arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber drivers, riders or employees. It is also ending the requirement that victims sign a confidentiality provision preventing them from speaking about the sexual assault or sexual harassment they suffered — saying survivors will now have the option to settle their claims with Uber without having to agree to being publicly silenced in order to do so. Last month a group of women alleging sexual violence from Uber drivers sent an open letter to the company’s board asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration clause in the Uber app’s terms of service. Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler — who was instrumental in highlighting internal problems with sexual harassment and sexism at Uber when she blogged about her experiences at the company last year  — also urged CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to end the policy. And in a  Twitter exchange  in March Khosrowshahi signaled he was willing to consider ending forced arbitration. “I will take it seriously, but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration,” he wrote to Fowler then. Concerns about safety and Uber’s attitude to reporting serious crimes were also among the reasons identified by London’s transport regulator for withdrawing Uber’s license to operate in the UK capital  last September . Although safety transparency measures also being announced by Uber today appear limited to the US market for now. Uber says it will be publishing what it describes as a “safety transparency report” — which it says will include data on sexual assaults and “other incidents” that occur as a result of activity on its platform. Announcing the moves in a blog post  today, entitled ‘Turning the lights on’, Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West writes that the company has committed to doing “the right thing” under its new CEO — a new attitude which requires “three key elements: transparency, integrity, and accountability”. Describing sexual violence as “a huge problem globally”, he continues: “The last 18 months have exposed a  silent epidemic  of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community. Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution.” Commenting on Uber’s policy changes to end mandatory arbitration, Jeanne Christensen, a partner at New York based law firm Wigdor LLP, which filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women who said they were assaulted or raped by Uber drivers, described it as a critical step to “reduce future suffering by women passengers”. But she also flagged Uber’s decision to not end forced arbitration for groups of victims acting on a class basis — saying this shows the company is “not fully committed to meaningful change”

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China’s Didi Chuxing suspends its carpooling service following murder of a passenger

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing service, has suspended its Hitch, one of its carpooling services, for one week as it investigates the murder of a passenger. The victim was a 21-year-old air stewardess identified only as Ms. Li. State-run news agency Global Times reports that the incident took place in the evening of May 5, when she used Hitch — which lets people headed to the same destination take a ride together — to summon a ride home from Zhengzhou airport, Henan Province, after finishing work. The publication cites police reports that say Li was murdered by her driver using a weapon. Didi has used  facial recognition technology to verify its drivers since 2016 . The technology is used to speed up registration of drivers when they initially sign-up, and also to prevent fraud when they log in to start a shift. The idea is that the app will only unlock when the driver account owner takes a selfie which should match with the record Didi has. In the case of this tragic incident, that safeguard collapsed. The suspect — who has been named as Liu Zhenhua — is not registered on its platform, according to Didi, but he was able to access it, and take rides, using a verified driver account belonging to his father. Didi said it did not prevent this because its facial recognition feature was “defective” that day. It looks like there was a warning sign, however. The company said that the account had received a sexual harassment complaint before the incident — it isn’t clear if that was from the father, or his son accessing the account — but Didi was unable to reach the account despite trying to make contact an apparent five times

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China’s Didi Chuxing suspends carpooling service following murder of a passenger

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing service, has suspended its Hitch, one of its carpooling services, for one week as it investigates the murder of a passenger. The victim was a 21-year-old air stewardess identified only as Ms. Li. State-run news agency Global Times reports that the incident took place in the evening of May 5, when she used Hitch — which lets people headed to the same destination take a ride together — to summon a ride home from Zhengzhou airport, Henan Province, after finishing work. The publication cites police reports that say Li was murdered by her driver using a weapon. Didi has used  facial recognition technology to verify its drivers since 2016 . The technology is used to speed up registration of drivers when they initially sign-up, and also to prevent fraud when they log in to start a shift. The idea is that the app will only unlock when the driver account owner takes a selfie which should match with the record Didi has. In the case of this tragic incident, that safeguard failed. The suspect — who has been named as Liu Zhenhua — is not registered on its platform, according to Didi, but he was able to access it, and take rides, using a verified driver account belonging to his father. Didi said it did not prevent this because its facial recognition feature was “defective” that day. It looks like there was a warning sign, however. The company said that the account had received a sexual harassment complaint before the incident — it isn’t clear if that was from the father, or his son accessing the account — but Didi was unable to reach the account despite trying to make contact an apparent five times. Yet, despite the complaint, the account was allowed to log-in and take rides. “Due to the imperfection of the arbitration rules of the platform, the complaint was not handled properly in subsequent days,” Didi admitted in a statement.

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Women alleging sexual assault by Uber drivers ask to be freed from forced arbitration

A group of women alleging sexual violence from Uber drivers have sent an open letter to the company’s board, asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration clause in the Uber app’s terms of service. The letter was posted on the website of Wigdor LLP , a New York law firm that filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women who said they were assaulted or raped by Uber drivers and blame the company’s background check procedures. “Uber’s message to the public are: ‘we help improve access to transportation, and make streets safer’ and ‘We do the right thing, period,’” read part of the letter, which was signed by fourteen women. “Secret arbitration is the opposite of transparency. Forcing female riders, as a condition of using Uber’s app, to pursue claims of sexual assault and rape in secret arbitration proceedings does not ‘make streets safer.’ Silencing our stories deprives customers and potential investors from the knowledge that our horrific experiences are part of a widespread problem at Uber.” They added “when we created Uber accounts, we believed Uber’s promise to provide a ‘safe ride.’ We trusted a company operating in the space of transportation for hire to mean what it says, and we never thought that Uber would perpetuate physical violence against women. But this is exactly what Uber is doing and what is has been doing for years.” Once a relatively obscure legal issue, mandatory arbitration agreements are now under scrutiny by activists who say they force victims of harassment and discrimination into silence. Opponents of mandatory arbitration say that the closed hearings, which include non-disclosure clauses and are often performed by a third-party arbitrator paid by the company itself, prevent victims from taking further action even as social movements like #MeToo continue to gain ground. Many companies require employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of non-union, private sector employees covered by mandatory arbitration clauses has increased dramatically since the early 2000s . Wigdor LLP noted that some companies, like Microsoft, are ending forced arbitration clauses , especially for sexual harassment, while a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the United States Congress that would end forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases in workplaces, and called on Uber to follow suit. In an exchange last month with former Uber engineer Susan Fowler on Twitter, Dara Khosrowshahi, who succeeded Travis Kalanick as Uber’s chief executive officer last August, signaled that he is willing to consider ending forced arbitration. “I will take it seriously, but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration,” he wrote. Hi Dara! I know you are working hard to make Uber a better place than it was when I was there. I believe you can make a difference, and I have a suggestion for something important you can do: https://t.co/h21wHnLRMK — Susan Fowler (@susanthesquark) March 30, 2018 Hi Susan! 1

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Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler backs California legislation to end forced arbitration

Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer whose blog post about  sexual harassment and troubling internal workings led to the departure of CEO Travis Kalanick , is backing new legislation that aims to give victims of sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination the freedom to seek legal action, and to do it publicly. Fowler is lending her support to bill AB-3080  — proposed by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the California Labor Federation, and the Economic Policy Institute — which would forbid employers from the practice of forced arbitration in response to discrimination complaints. The proposed legislation tackles a worrying norm in which companies, including throughout tech, mandate that employees air any grievances before a private, third-party arbitrator who is typically paid for by the company itself. The hearings happen in secret, with non-disclosure clauses preventing the claimant from talking about the details or filing a class-action lawsuit, and they are on the rise. The percentage of nonunion, private-sector employees covered by mandatory-arbitration clauses has more than doubled since the early 2000s, according to a study last year by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Though the issue has come up periodically in Silicon Valley — venture firm Kleiner Perkins tried to force former employee Ellen Pao into arbitration when she sued the firm for gender discrimination — it hasn’t received widespread attention “for the same reason that it hasn’t gotten much attention from people who work in other industries,” says Fowler via email. “They don’t realize that it affects them, and they don’t realize how widespread and sinister the problem really is.” Fowler says that she was “one of those people” for most of her life, knowing nothing about forced arbitration until she experienced what she describes as illegal treatment at Uber, after which she says she discovered that she “had no way to get justice.” Now that she knows about forced arbitration, she says, “I’m hell-bent on bringing attention to it and doing everything I can to prevent what happened to me at Uber from happening to anyone else.” The proposed legislation isn’t the first of its kind. A 2015 bill banning mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment wended its way all the way to California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Faced with stiff opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, which labeled it a “ job killer ,” Brown vetoed the bill . Caitlin Vega, legislative director of the California Labor Federation, an organization that works with 1,200 labor unions across the state, is hoping the timing is better for  AB-3080 given   the   #MeToo movement and the awareness it has raised around sexual discrimination and harassment in particular. Vega also says the bill differs from its predecessor in ways that may make it more palatable to Governor Brown. For example, gone is language that required that any waiver of any legal right by an employee must be knowing and voluntary, in writing, and may not be an express condition of employment. This time, the focus is more narrowly on ensuring that people not be forced to agree to potential arbitration as a condition of their employment and that employers be prohibited from “threatening, retaliating or discriminating against, or terminating any applicant for employment or prospective employment or any employee because of the refusal to consent to the waiver of any right, forum, or procedure for a violation of specific statutes governing employment.” Either way, proponents — including Fowler — hope far more attention will be paid to the bill’s benefits instead of to the perceived benefits to corporations in continuing to use arbitration agreements widely. “The dominant view is that it helps manage long-term legal risk, ensuring that companies won’t become embroiled in costly, drawn-out lawsuits,” Fowler wrote in a recent op-ed for the New York Times .

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