You Can Now Sue Uber for Sexual Assault

When two women brought Uber to court, claiming they had been sexually assaulted by Uber drivers, the company tried to escape being sued. Uber essentially claimed that their drivers were not really employees. Instead, they were independent contractors, so Uber wasn’t really responsible for them. One California judge didn’t buy it—and she did something about it. Uber can now be sued over sexual assaults.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco ruled on Wednesday that “an employment relationship may plausibly exist,” according to CBS News. Uber may therefore be held responsible for their employees, who apparently acted within the scope of employment.  

RELATED: How Many Sexual Assaults Have Happened on Uber Rides?

“Assaults of this nature are exactly why consumers would expect taxi companies to perform background checks of their drivers,” the judge wrote in the ruling. “Holding Uber liable could also forward the underlying policy goals of respondeat superior, including prevention of future injuries and assurance of compensation to victims.”

The case involved two women who were sexually assaulted two separate times by their Uber drivers. Refinery29 reported that both women were suing for sexual assault, in addition to negligence and fraud over driver screening processes by Uber.  

Consumerist reported that the first plaintiff, Jane Doe 1 of Massachusetts, had her claim of negligent hiring dismissed by the court. This is because the first driver was a recent immigrant with no issues in his 3 year stay in the U.S., and a more extensive background check would not have turned up with anything more anyway. Meanwhile, the second driver had a 12-year-old domestic violence charge on his record. However, Uber background checks only go back 7 years. This meant the charges of Jane Doe 2 of South Carolina could go forward.

Other than the first dismissal of negligence, the judge let the rest of the case proceed. Basically, despite whatever Uber calls their drivers, they have an employee-employer relationship. Therefore, Uber can be held responsible for sexual assaults by the drivers. Hopefully this will cause Uber to shape its policies and more carefully screen drivers to avoid cases like this in the future.