A judge in California has ruled that Uber can be sued over sexual assault committed by its drivers, Consumerist reported on Friday. Uber had moved to dismiss two charges of sexual assault filed against the company, arguing that it can’t be held liable for the assaults because of technicalities regarding the employment status of its drivers. While employers are legally liable for crimes committed by their employees while on the clock, Uber argued that the drivers are technically independent contractors, not employees, and that the company itself held no responsibility for the assaults. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston didn't seem to buy it. "It matters not whether Uber’s licensing agreements label drivers as independent contractors, if their conduct suggests otherwise," she wrote.
The ruling came in a case filed by women who were sexually assaulted in two separate incidences. In addition to suing over their sexual assault, the women are charging the company with negligence and fraud over their process of screening its drivers. In one assault, the driver had a 12-year-old domestic violence conviction that was missed because the screening only went back seven years. In the other, the driver had only been in the United States for three years.
The judge ruled that despite Uber’s claims, the drivers did have an employment relationship with the company. Though dismissing the claim of negligence on the second driver, she allowed the case to proceed. “Assaults of this nature are exactly why customers would expect taxi companies to perform background checks of their drivers,” the judge wrote, adding that holding Uber liable would uphold the principle of employer liability, “including prevention of future injuries and assurance of compensation to victims.” A date for the continuation of the case has not been reported.