Uber Eliminates Mandatory Arbitration of, and NDAs for, Sexual Assault and Harassment Claims

AnnaBy Anna M. Hershenberg, Esq.

Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it will no longer require its customers, drivers or employees to arbitrate sexual assault or harassment claims, and that it would allow victims to decide whether to enter into non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality provisions as a part of any settlement with the company.

Uber is the second tech company to announce it has changed its dispute resolution policies in response to the #MeToo movement, following Microsoft’s December move.  Brad Smith, “Microsoft endorses Senate bill to address sexual harassment,” Microsoft blog (Dec. 19, 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2mR65jR).

In a blog post yesterday, “Turning the lights on,” Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West announced the details of three major changes to Uber’s policies. Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

First, Uber states it “will no longer require mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims by Uber riders, drivers or employees.” The company instead will allow victims to choose whether to mediate, arbitrate or litigate their individual claims.

In an interview with the New York Times, West confirmed that the “waiving of arbitration only applied to those claims and not for other legal claims, like discrimination.” Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW).

West also noted that the new policy applies “to people currently in arbitration with Uber over sexual assault or harassment claims.” Id. 

The Uber blog post specifically states that the company waives application of mandatory arbitration to “individual” claims, still barring class actions. Notably, as of the writing of this blog post, Uber’s driver agreement still contains a mandatory arbitration clause.  Uber US Terms of Use (Dec. 13, 2017)(available at https://ubr.to/2jrKPBW).

Second, Uber will no longer require people who settle sexual harassment or abuse claims with the company to sign confidentiality provisions or NDAs that forbid them from speaking about their experience in order to “help end the culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence.” Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018)(available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

This does not appear to prohibit victims from agreeing to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. “Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories,” the blog post states.

Third, Uber has committed to publishing “a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform.” Id.

Soon after Uber announced these changes, competitor Lyft announced the same changes, and said on Twitter it would join Uber in producing a safety report.  Johana Bhuiyan, “Following Uber’s lead, Lyft is also allowing alleged victims of sexual assault to pursue cases in open court.” Recode (May 15, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILLXfO).

Some news sources have linked Uber’s policy change to its hopes for an initial public offering in 2019, and mounting public pressure following a CNN investigation, which found that 103 U.S. Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.  Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW); Stephanie Forshee, “Uber CLO Explains Decision to Scrap Mandatory Arbitration Clauses and NDAs Around Sexual Harassment, Assault,” Corporate Counsel (May 15, 2018)(available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI); see also Sara Ashley O’Brien, Nelli Black, Curt Devine and Drew Griffin, “CNN investigation: 103 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse,” CNN Money (April 30, 2018) (available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI).

Uber’s Tony West, however, insists that the new policies are aimed at winning back the “public’s trust,” “respect of customers [Uber] lost through [its] past actions and behavior,” and, in the words of the company’s new “cultural norm,” to “do the right thing, period.”  Tony West, “Turning the lights on”, Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1); see also Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new cultural norms, Linked In (Nov. 7, 2017)(available at https://bit.ly/2jaoiL7)(the author is the company’s chief executive officer).

The legal profession’s use of mandatory employment arbitration also has recalibrated, at least at some firms, in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In March, major law firms, including New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Los Angeles’ Munger, Tolles & Olson announced they would no longer require employees to sign onto mandatory employment arbitration agreements. The moves followed a Twitter attack invoking #MeToo directed primarily at Munger.

And on Monday, Yale Law School sent a letter on behalf of top law schools asking law firms that recruit on their campuses to “disclose whether they require summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and nondisclosure agreements related to workplace misconduct, including but not limited to sexual harassment.” Staci Zaretsky, “Elite Law Schools Demand That Biglaw Firms Disclose Whether Students Will Be Forced to Sign Arbitration Agreements,” Above the Law (May 14, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILJMZU).

 

Ms. Hershenberg is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy at CPR. She can be reached at ahershenberg@cpradr.org.

Appropriations Bill to Prohibit Fed Contractors from Mandatory Arbitration of Employee or Independent Contractor Claims under Title VII or Torts Related to or Arising Out of Sexual Assault or Harassment

By Mark Kantor

Kantor Photo (8-2012)On March 21, Congressional negotiators reached last-minute agreement on a 2232-page “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018” to implement the bipartisan budget agreement from earlier this year (available at http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20180319/BILLS-115SAHR1625-RCP115-66.pdf). Such “must pass” legislation is always a popular vehicle for “policy riders.” This year, one such rider that appears to have successfully made its way into the final legislation prohibits Federal contractors or subcontractors, under Federal contracts exceeding $1 million, from entering into or enforcing pre-dispute arbitration provisions under which an employee or independent contractor agrees in advance to resolve through arbitration “any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.” Title VII, of course, covers all employment discrimination, not just sexual assault or harassment (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm). There is an exclusion in the provision for agreements that may not be enforced in US courts. In addition, the Secretary of Defense can waive the prohibition if “the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary personally determines that the waiver is necessary to avoid harm to national security interests of the United States, and that the term of the contract or subcontract is not longer than necessary to avoid such harm.”

The agreed text reads as follows:

24 SEC. 8095. (a) None of the funds appropriated or
25 otherwise made available by this Act may be expended for
1 any Federal contract for an amount in excess of
2 $1,000,000, unless the contractor agrees not to—
3 (1) enter into any agreement with any of its
4 employees or independent contractors that requires,
5 as a condition of employment, that the employee or
6 independent contractor agree to resolve through ar-
7 bitration any claim under title VII of the Civil
8 Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising
9 out of sexual assault or harassment, including as-
10 sault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional
11 distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, su-
12 pervision, or retention; or
13 (2) take any action to enforce any provision of
14 an existing agreement with an employee or inde-
15 pendent contractor that mandates that the employee
16 or independent contractor resolve through arbitra-
17 tion any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act
18 of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sex-
19 ual assault or harassment, including assault and
20 battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress,
21 false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision,
22 or retention.
23 (b) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise
24 made available by this Act may be expended for any Fed-
25 eral contract unless the contractor certifies that it requires
1 each covered subcontractor to agree not to enter into, and
2 not to take any action to enforce any provision of, any
3 agreement as described in paragraphs (1) and (2) of sub-
4 section (a), with respect to any employee or independent
5 contractor performing work related to such subcontract.
6 For purposes of this subsection, a ‘‘covered subcon-
7 tractor’’ is an entity that has a subcontract in excess of
8 $1,000,000 on a contract subject to subsection (a).
9 (c) The prohibitions in this section do not apply with
10 respect to a contractor’s or subcontractor’s agreements
11 with employees or independent contractors that may not
12 be enforced in a court of the United States.
13 (d) The Secretary of Defense may waive the applica-
14 tion of subsection (a) or (b) to a particular contractor or
15 subcontractor for the purposes of a particular contract or
16 subcontract if the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary per-
17 sonally determines that the waiver is necessary to avoid
18 harm to national security interests of the United States,
19 and that the term of the contract or subcontract is not
20 longer than necessary to avoid such harm. The determina-
21 tion shall set forth with specificity the grounds for the
22 waiver and for the contract or subcontract term selected,
23 and shall state any alternatives considered in lieu of a
24 waiver and the reasons each such alternative would not
25 avoid harm to national security interests of the United
1 States. The Secretary of Defense shall transmit to Con-
2 gress, and simultaneously make public, any determination
3 under this subsection not less than 15 business days be-
4 fore the contract or subcontract addressed in the deter-
5 mination may be awarded.

The agreed legislation is now expected to pass Congress very promptly. But, if the appropriations bill is not signed by the President before midnight Friday, then the US Government will once again shut down for lack of funds (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/21/politics/congress-unveils-spending-package-fix-nics/index.html). Observers expect the bill to pass Congress on a bipartisan vote, just as the original agreement did earlier this year. But the timing of passage, and thus the possibility of another very short Government shutdown, may be affected by opponents’ parliamentary maneuvers.

 

Mark Kantor is a CPR Distinguished Neutral. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, Mark was a partner in the Corporate and Project Finance Groups of the Firm. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). Additionally, Mr. Kantor is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management.

This material was first published on OGEMID, the Oil Gas Energy Mining Infrastructure and Investment Disputes discussion group sponsored by the on-line journal Transnational Dispute Management (TDM, at https://www.transnational-dispute-management.com/), and is republished with consent.