Amber* and her friends spent a hot and humid July 2017 evening in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at The Pickle Barrel, a pub in a flatiron building with southern bites and a crowded roof deck.
As she had many nights before, Amber called an Uber for her and a friend to make the more than eight-mile trip home at about 1:30 a.m. But unlike those other nights, on July 22, 2017, Amber says she was sexually assaulted by her driver before she made it to her own front door.
Though Amber immediately reported her assault to both Uber and the authorities, another woman says she was victimized by that same driver just 15 days later.
Now, the women want answers.
Both unidentified plaintiffs filed a 65-page lawsuit against Uber last month in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The complaint was first covered by The Chattanoogan, and it claims the company was negligent in its retention of the alleged perpetrator, 26-year-old John Kyle Lane, after the first incident. The women are seeking at least $25,000 in damages to be determined at trial.
Lane began his ride with Amber by “offering details of his personal life that [she] found to be inappropriate,” according to the complaint. After dropping off Amber’s friend, Lane arrived at her home, pulled into the driveway, and positioned his vehicle “such that he was between [her] and her house,” the lawsuit claims.
Then, he allegedly locked the doors. Lane asked Amber how she felt about uncircumcised penises and then forced his genitals into her hand while groping her breast, according to both the lawsuit and police documents obtained by The Tennessean.
When Amber threatened to scream and jerked her hand away, Lane allegedly unlocked the door and let her out. As he sped away, Amber ran into her house and called the Red Bank Police Department and notified Uber, according to the lawsuit.
“This driver should be fired. I find him to be a danger to his passengers,” Amber allegedly wrote at the end of her complaint to the company.
An Uber representative purportedly sent her an email shortly afterward, noting that the company had launched an internal investigation and that someone would be in touch with her as soon as possible. A phone call later that day from another representative confirmed the investigation, the lawsuit claims.
Uber refunded Amber’s money for the ride and placed a restriction on her profile so that she would never be paired with Lane again, according to the complaint.
Afterward, she was traumatized, had nightmares, and had difficulty sleeping, according to the lawsuit.
“The trauma of this event became embedded in her mind to the point where it often infiltrated her every thought, impeded her ability to carry out her daily activities and infected her relationship with her husband and young daughter,” the complaint claims. She “suffered severe emotional distress and was forced to enter counseling and seek psychiatric treatment,” the court papers say.
Meanwhile, Lane was still driving customers.
On Aug. 6, 2017, he picked up Julia*.
She was trying to get home from downtown Chattanooga and, again, Lane struck up an “inappropriate” conversation and eventually asked if he could “come inside and ‘have a threesome’” with Julia and her boyfriend, court documents allege.
When she moved to get out of the car, Lane yelled and allegedly exposed his erect penis.
“You’re not going anywhere until you do something about this,” he said, according to the complaint. She frantically left the vehicle and ran to the back of her house.
That evening, Julia reported the incident to the East Ridge Police Department and to Uber, which allegedly took six days to respond to her report, the complaint claims. The ride-hail giant said it would restrict Lane’s driver access and investigate the situation. A few days later, Julia allegedly received another message from the company, claiming that Lane’s account was put on hold until an investigation could be completed. She was also told that she would not be paired with Lane again.
After receiving another Aug. 14, 2017 email from Uber, Julia wrote: “I very much appreciate that I will not be paired with this Uber driver, but my concern is that another girl will end up with this individual and something worse will happen to her…. I have been a member of this community long before Uber came to our city and I feel a certain responsibility to the other women I live alongside.”
Lane has been charged in Hamilton County with stalking, harassment, sexual battery and indecent exposure, according to The Tennessean. He is scheduled for a court hearing on Aug. 14 and 15, the newspaper reports.
Lane began driving for Uber in spring 2017, according to the lawsuit, which claims the company “failed to exercise reasonable care in retaining Lane and continuing to allow him to drive its customers.”
In a statement sent to The Daily Beast on Monday night, an Uber spokeswoman said: “What’s been described is appalling and this driver remains permanently removed from the app.”
Another suit against Uber, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, first alleged in November 2017 that the ride-hail giant operates a system that enables perpetrators to have access to thousands of victims all over the country.
One driver is even accused of masturbating in the presence of a customer, explaining: “I thought this is what you wanted.” The nine plaintiffs have each claimed that they were sexually assaulted, harassed, or kidnapped by their Uber driver.
“Uber has done everything possible to continue using low-cost, woefully inadequate background checks on drivers and has failed to monitor drivers for any violent or inappropriate conduct after they are hired,” that lawsuit, amended in March, says. “Uber has created a system for bad actors to gain access to vulnerable victims.”
Attorney Jeanne Christensen, who represents those plaintiffs, told The Daily Beast in March that “Uber’s goal is to stop women from getting the justice they deserve through our court system.”
An April investigation by CNN found 103 reports of sexual assault by Uber drivers within the past four years.
An Uber spokesperson told CNN then that safety is the company’s top priority this year, pointing out numerous recent protocol updates, including more background checks, in addition to a “safety center” on the app. Another Uber spokesperson said in March that the company takes all sexual-misconduct allegations against its drivers “very seriously.”
*Pseudonyms were given to the unidentified victims in these lawsuits.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated throughout.