Lyft faces sexual assault lawsuit

Fourteen women today filed a lawsuit against Lyft alleging the company has not addressed complaints pertaining to sexual assault, including rape. The suit, filed today in the Superior Court of San Francisco, seeks special, general and punitive damages, among other types of relief.

In one case, a woman describes a Lyft driver who ended the ride more than one mile away from her house, locked the doors, told her, “I love you” and took her phone, the suit claims. It goes on to describe how he eventually pulled over the car so he could climb into the back seat, the suit alleges. That’s when he “grabbed her face to forcefully kiss her, at which time she slapped him, breaking a finger; then eventually driving her to a beach – where he raped her.”

Calling it a “sexual predator crisis,” the lawsuit claims Lyft has known of sexual assaults since 2015 and has had an “appallingly inadequate” response. Specifically, the lawsuit claims Lyft continues to let “culpable drivers who have complaints of rape and sexual assaults lodged against them” continue driving for Lyft.

“What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community,” Lyft Head of Trust & Safety Mary Winfield said in a statement to TechCrunch. “One in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. As a platform committed to providing safe transportation, we hold ourselves to a higher standard by designing products and policies to keep out bad actors, make riders and drivers feel safe, and react quickly if and when an incident does occur. Our commitment is stronger than ever, as we dedicate more resources in our continued effort to ensure our riders and drivers have the safest possible experience.”

The suit alleges Lyft also does not cooperate with the police when a driver sexually assaults a passenger nor does it require any sexual harassment training of its drivers. Additionally, Lyft allowed drivers accused of rape to continue driving for the service, the suit alleges.

To help address and ideally eliminate sexual assaults, the lawsuit recommends Lyft adopt a zero-tolerance policy for improper conduct, add a surveillance camera to the app that can record audio and video of all rides and require drivers to have it on at all times, adopt a policy for the mandatory reporting of sexual assault, as well as take other steps to increase safety.

Competitor Uber has also faced a number of sexual assault and abuse lawsuits. Between 2014-2018, CNN found 103 Uber drivers who had been accused of sexual assault or abuse of passengers.

Over the years, both companies have taken steps to ramp up their respective safety procedures. In April, Uber launched a campus safety initiative while Lyft implemented continuous background checks and enhanced its identity verification process for drivers. Uber, however, implemented continuous background checks about a full year before Lyft. Unlike Uber, Lyft lacks an easy way for riders to call 911 within the app. In May 2018, Uber added an in-app 911 calling feature.