Lyft joins Uber to end forced arbitration for sexual assault victims

103 Uber drivers accused of assault or abuse
103 Uber drivers accused of assault or abuse

Uber competitor Lyft says it will no longer force victims of sexual assault into arbitration.

The news came just hours after Uber announced the same change in the wake of a recent CNN investigation into the sexual assaults and abuse by drivers.

The update will apply to riders, drivers and employees who will be able to choose the venue in which they want to pursue redress of their sexual harassment or assault claims, whether that's arbitration, mediation or open court.

Previously, upon signing up for Uber or Lyft services, users had to agree to resolve claims on an individual basis through arbitration. Critics say the practice helps companies keep the issue of sexual violence quiet.

CNN's investigation found at least 103 Uber drivers in the United States who have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years. The drivers were either arrested, are wanted by police, or have been named in civil suits related to the incidents.

At least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and dozens of criminal and civil cases are pending, CNN found.

A similar CNN review using the same methodology found 18 cases of Lyft drivers accused in the past four years. Four drivers have been convicted.

Related: Uber will no longer force victims of sexual assault into arbitration

There is no publicly available data for the number of sexual assaults by Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare companies. CNN's analysis came from an in-depth review of police reports, federal court records and county court databases for 20 major US cities.

"We agree with the changes [Uber made] and have removed the confidentiality requirement for sexual assault victims, as well as ended mandatory arbitration for those individuals so that they can choose which venue is best for them. This policy extends to passengers, drivers and Lyft employees," said Lyft spokesperson Alexandra LaManna in a statement on Tuesday.

Related: Senator pressures Uber after CNN investigation into driver assaults

In addition, Lyft said it will no longer require confidentiality agreements in exchange for settlements -- a change Uber also made.

During a phone interview with CNN ahead of the Uber announcement on Tuesday, Uber's chief legal officer Tony West said "to be most effective we need everyone in the industry to really follow suit here, for us all to lock arms in this fight against sexual assault."

Uber also promised to publish a safety transparency report that will put numbers behind sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on its platform. Lyft said it also intends to disclose a safety report.

The lack of transparency about the number of incidents perpetrated by drivers has been a sticking point by victims in lawsuits.

As part of its investigation, CNN also contacted more than 20 police departments to obtain data on complaints that involved Uber and Lyft drivers and sexual assault. Four police departments — Austin, Boston, Denver and Los Angeles — tracked crimes involving rideshare drivers and shared their data on sexual assault complaints.

Related: Uber tightens driver background checks

CNN did not include most of these complaints in its tally of cases because they could not all be verified with incident reports. However, the numbers suggest that there may be many more overall incidents of sexual assault than the cases found in the investigation.

The Uber news was announced a day ahead of a court-mandated deadline for the company to respond to a proposed class action lawsuit filed by law firm Wigdor LLP on behalf of nine women accusing drivers of sexual assault.

Uber, which has formally responded in court, said the women will now have the choice of bringing their individual assault claims to arbitration, meditation or open court. Uber argued that the women will have to bring other claims in the suit, including unfair business practices, to an arbitrator.

-- CNN's Nelli Black, Curt Devine, Drew Griffin, Majlie de Puy Kamp, Collette Richards and Whitney Clegg contributed reporting.

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