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Uber Appeals California Fine in Sexual Assault, Safety Probe

Jan. 13, 2021, 2:00 PM

Uber Technologies Inc. says a California Public Utilities Commission judge’s $59 million fine “sends a dangerous message to anyone who stands up for the privacy and autonomy of sexual assault victims.”

The ride-hailing company is appealing an administrative law judge’s order to provide the commission with information on sexual assault and harassment claims or pay the fine. Failing to comply could cost Uber its license to operate in California.

“The Commission cannot, on the one hand, acknowledge that victims of sexual assault are entitled to protect their personal information but simultaneously impose an extraordinary $59 million fine on Uber Technologies Inc. for raising the need for such protections. The dispute at issue on this appeal is that simple,” Uber said in a filing Wednesday to the full commission.

The end game for Uber is to sit down with the commission along with advocates and experts in sexual violence “and allow us to figure out how we can get the CPUC the information they want in a way that protects survivors,” said Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer. “And we want them to lift the fine.”

The judge’s order “sends a very confusing, very chilling message” that transparency isn’t rewarded, West said.

The commission began an investigation in 2012 to determine how it would oversee ride-hailing companies, including Uber and Lyft Inc. Uber voluntarily produced an industry first, and only, safety report, including information from assault victims and survivors groups.

The administrative judge in December ordered Uber to provide information on who wrote the report and submit, under seal, information on sexual assault and sexual harassment claims involving passengers and drivers. The judge said that information could be submitted without identifying the individuals, and that the commission could use Uber as a conduit if the agency sought more information from survivors.

“To be clear: Uber does not object—and has never objected—to providing anonymized data about reported sexual assaults to the Commission, as long as it can do so in a manner that protects victims’ legitimate and understandable privacy concerns,” the company’s filing said.

The judge’s order violates Uber’s due process rights, constitutional prohibitions against excessive fines, and artificially inflates the fine, and the dispute remains unresolved, the company said.

“The draconian and illegal fine sends a dangerous message to anyone who stands up for the privacy and autonomy of sexual assault victims in the face of intrusive demands for disclosing personally identifiable information,” Uber said.

Uber had until Wednesday to appeal the administrative judge’s decision to the full commission.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com; Lizette Chapman in San Francisco

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

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