Lyft’s image as the “woke” ride-hailing company faces a new challenge from a rash of lawsuits filed by women who claim they were sexually assaulted by drivers summoned to take them home after evenings of partying.
Since Aug. 1, seven female passengers have sued the company in San Francisco, its hometown, and lawyers at the women-led firm representing those riders say there are more complaints to come.
Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer described the startup to Time magazine in 2017 as “woke” in contrast to larger competitor Uber Technologies Inc., which was in the midst of a sex harassment scandal. But on Monday, an attorney leading the Lyft cases said that isn’t what she’s found while working with scores of female clients who blame the companies for failing to protect them from predatory drivers.
Private negotiations to try to head off litigation have gone better with Uber than with Lyft, lawyer Laurel Simes said, adding that she wants both companies to do more extensive background checks and to install video monitors in vehicles.
“Uber seems to be taking more of a reasonable approach about making changes,” Simes said. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s talk, let’s figure out what we can do.’ Where Lyft seems to be more scorched earth.”
In April 2018, a CNN investigation found that 103 Uber drivers and 18 Lyft drivers had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the previous four years. The next month, both companies committed to releasing data about safety incidents on their platforms. Uber issued a “transparency report” in July 2018 showing aggregate data about requests from law enforcement agencies, though it didn’t include a breakdown on harassment and assault allegations.
Lyft said in April that it was increasing the frequency of its background checks to include “daily monitoring of its active drivers and immediate notification of any disqualifying criminal convictions.” It also announced an enhancement to its identity verification process to prevent fraud by drivers intent on hiding their criminal records.
The new Lyft suits describe assaults in urban markets including Seattle, Washington and New Orleans.