Uber Fined $59 Million After Stonewalling Investigation Into Sexual Violence

The company will be suspended from California in 30 days if it does not pay the fine and hand over detailed information on sexual misconduct allegations.
December 17, 2020, 2:00pm
After a year spent refusing to give California regulators detailed information on sexual assault and harassment claims made by drivers and riders, Uber is being fined $59 million. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), which made the ruling on M
Bloomberg / Contributor

After a year spent refusing to give California regulators detailed information on sexual assault and harassment claims made by drivers and riders, Uber is being fined $59 million. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), which made the ruling on Monday, is giving the ride-hailing company 30 days to pay the fine and provide the information or risk the suspension of its license to operate.

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Coincidentally, it has been about one year since Uber published a report on sexual violence on its platform. At the time, the report was hailed by Uber and some commentators as an unprecedented move. Buried within, however, was the quiet admission that hundreds of rape allegations were never reported to law enforcement.

In an interview with The Washington Post at the time, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the decision not to report to police was informed by advocacy groups that suggested the victim should make the decision. However, a Washington Post report also uncovered a Special Investigations Unit with a primary function fo ensuring “Uber is not held liable” for sexual violence on its platform.

After publishing its 84-page sexual violence report in December 2019, Administrative Law Judge Robert M. Mason III ruled that Uber must provide more detailed information to the CPUC—such as the names and titles of Uber staff involved in creating its report.

Mason's December ruling also demanded that Uber describe each Californian sexual misconduct claims from 2017 to 2019, as well as provide the names and contact information of survivors and witnesses and Uber staff aware of the reports. Uber refused to comply, insisting such a move could re-traumatize or endanger survivors and filing a motion for reconsideration and citing letters of support from survivors advocate groups. 

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In July, a ruling upheld Mason's previous rulings and the CPUC's authority to demand detailed information on sexual violence done by Uber's riders and drivers, as well as to fine the company for refusing to comply.

Mason denied Uber’s motion in January but allowed for some information to be filed under seal over safety concerns. In Monday's ruling, he reiterated his position that Uber's concerns were "premature" as the CPUC agreed to protect the identities of survivors and witnesses. Mason also suggested Uber and the CPUC collaborate to "develop a code or numbering system as a substitute for the actual names and other personally identifiable information requested."

“In December 2019, we were the first company in the industry to release a US Safety Report. Since then, the CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to Motherboard. “We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates. Now, a year later, the CPUC has changed its tune: we can provide anonymized information—yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered. These punitive and confusing actions will do nothing to improve public safety and will only create a chilling effect as other companies consider releasing their own reports. Transparency should be encouraged, not punished.”


This story has been updated with a statement from Uber.