Fourteen women have filed a civil complaint against Lyft alleging the company has ignored complaints of sexual assault by its drivers and failed to respond to them with adequate safety measures.
The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday, alleges the anonymous plaintiffs suffered assaults in Lyfts in at least 10 states over the past two years and that Lyft has, in various ways, refused to help them. In addition, the suit claims that from 2014 to 2016, Lyft received nearly 100 complaints of sexual assault against its California drivers.
“Lyft has made a concerted effort in the media, in litigation, and in criminal cases to hide and conceal the true extent of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles,” the suit claims.
One woman described an assault in Los Angeles on Halloween 2018 where a driver kidnapped her and raped her on a beach over the course of five hours. Her alleged rapist did not face charges, the complaint said, and she claims Lyft could have brought him to justice by implementing surveillance features.
“I was held hostage for five hours, and Lyft did not know my life was in danger,” the woman recounted in a press conference announcing the civil complaint. “Knowing the police would have automatically been called would have gone a long way. What happened to me must never happen again.”
Another said a Lyft driver followed her into her hotel room, raped her, stole her phone, and added a $25 tip for himself before deleting her account. Lyft has been unresponsive to her claims and a police investigation, according to the complaint. Yet another plaintiff, a blind woman, said a driver followed her into her house, raped her, and continued to drive for Lyft after she notified the company of what allegedly happened.
Lyft failed to report sexual assaults to the police, hired drivers without effective screening, misrepresented its commitment to safety to the public, and allowed drivers accused of rape and sexual predation to continue driving, the complaint alleges. Many of the plaintiffs took issue with Lyft’s complaint process, which they say involves unproductive phone tag with company representatives.
The complaint alleges that Lyft has created a “policy to silence victims” by not implementing strong enough measures to punish sexual misconduct, does not requiring its drivers to undergo training to prevent sexual harassment, and failed to provide support for victims.
The result, according to the complaint, is an “obvious and open subculture of Lyft drivers who harbor a sexual motivation for driving female passengers.” Male Lyft drivers allegedly congregated in an online chatroom to brag about their access to female riders.
The complaint makes several demands of Lyft to alleviate the alleged epidemic of sexual assault. It states that Lyft should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual misconduct, implement fingerprint background checks instead of name-based ones, monitor rides via the driver’s app while retaining video and audio recordings, and implement strict route-adherence features.
“What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community,” Lyft Head of Trust and Safety Mary Winfield said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“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.”
This is far from the first time a ridesharing company has been accused of ignoring sexual assault. More than 100 Uber drivers were reportedly accused of sexual assault from 2014 to 2018. Lyft has admitted in the past that its own response to sexual harassment has fallen short of desired results.
Nor is it the first lawsuit. One complaint filed last month alleged a woman complained of sexual harassment during a ride and was still charged. Other women have said they received a $5 coupon in response to reports of harassment.
“Sadly, Lyft’s priority is not safety,” the complaint states. “Profits are Lyft’s priority.”
—With additional reporting by Olivia Messer