Uber's ride-hailing service will give its U.S. passengers and drivers more leeway to pursue claims of sexual misconduct, its latest attempt to reverse its reputation for brushing aside bad behavior.
The shift announced Tuesday will allow riders and drivers to file allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment in courts and mediation instead of being locked into an arbitration hearing.
The San Francisco company is also scrapping a policy requiring all settlements of sexual misconduct to be kept confidential, giving victims the choice of whether they want to make their experience public.
The new rules mark a conciliatory step made by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. He was hired last August amid a wave of revelations and allegations about rampant sexual harassment in its workforce, a cover-up of a massive data breach , dirty tricks and stolen trade secrets .
Khosrowshahi has launched a campaign to "do the right thing" to repair the damage left by Uber's previous regime and lure back alienated riders who defected to rivals such as Lyft.
The changes governing sexual misconduct come a month after Uber announced it will do criminal background checks on its U.S. drivers annually and add a 911 button for summoning help in emergencies. It's an effort to reassure its riders and address concerns that it hadn't done enough to keep crooks from using its service to prey on potential victims.
Giving victims of sexual assault or perceived sexual harassment more options sends an important message that Uber is taking the issue more seriously, said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for Raliance, a coalition of groups working with Uber to prevent sexual abuse on its service.
It may also spur more complaints. For example, Houser said riders may now be more emboldened to report inappropriate behavior, such as when a driver asks them out for a date.
"You want people to report lower level infractions so you can nip them in the bud before they become bigger problems," she said.
By the end of the year, Uber will also start to publicly report incidents of alleged sexual misconduct in hopes of establishing more transparency about the issue throughout the ride-hailing and traditional taxi industries.
"We think the numbers are going to be disturbing," said Tony West, a former government prosecutor during the Obama administration who became Uber's chief legal officer after Khosrowshahi took over.