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Lawsuit involving 2 Minnesota woman filed against Lyft, says company does little to protect female riders

This Jan. 31, 2018 file photo shows a Lyft logo on a Lyft driver's car in Pittsburgh. Photo: AP/ Gene J. Puskar
This Jan. 31, 2018 file photo shows a Lyft logo on a Lyft driver's car in Pittsburgh.

Updated: December 06, 2019 07:32 PM

Two Minnesota women are part of a lawsuit against the ride-sharing company Lyft, claiming the ride-share giant doesn't do enough to ensure the safety of female passengers.

The lawsuit states the 20 women who filed the claim say they were assaulted by Lyft drivers, and accuses the company of hiring drivers without conducting adequate background checks.

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One plaintiff in the case, who is from Fridley, says she was sexually assaulted by a Lyft driver in December 2017. A second Minnesota woman, from Prior Lake, claims she was raped by a Lyft driver in Los Angeles.

Lyft provided the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

"What these women describe is something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone deserves the ability to move about the world safely, yet women still face disproportionate risks. We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in our work to build safety into every aspect of our work. That means continually investing in new features and policies to protect our riders and drivers.

This year, nearly one in five employees at Lyft have been dedicated to initiatives that strengthen the platform's safety. In just the last few months, we've launched more than 15 new safety features -- including daily continuous criminal background monitoring of all of our drivers, in-app emergency assistance to make reporting easier for riders, and mandatory feedback for rides rated less than four stars to ensure we are constantly tracking any level of problematic behavior by drivers. We've also partnered with RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, to roll out required sexual violence prevention education. Our work on safety is never done, and we will continue to invest in new features, protocols, and policies to ensure Lyft is the safest form of transportation for our riders and drivers."

Background information (paraphrased, not quoted):

Background checks:
• We go to great lengths to stop any bad actors from coming onto the platform. Third-party background checks performed when people apply help to drive disqualify bad actors, and continuous criminal monitoring helps us quickly become aware of any criminal behavior.
• Before giving a ride on the Lyft platform, all driver-applicants are screened for criminal offenses and driving incidents.
• Our initial and annual criminal background checks are provided by a third-party company and include a social security number trace, a nationwide criminal search, a county court records search, a federal criminal court records search as well as a U.S. Department of Justice 50-state sex offender registry search.
• We also conduct continuous criminal monitoring and are soon rolling out continuous driving record checks. These checks provide Lyft with daily monitoring and immediate notification of any disqualifying criminal convictions and driving infractions. Any driver who does not pass both the annual and continuous screenings is barred from our platform.  

Community Safety Education:
• Technology alone is not enough. We've partnered with RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, to ensure we're effective at educating our community to protect against bad actors.
• We require every driver to complete the safety education program, which provides them with the skills to create a safe environment for everyone.

Select in-app safety features:
• 911: In the case of an unsafe situation, drivers and riders can connect with 911 from within the Lyft app. The app displays the user's current location and vehicle information (including license plate number), making it easy for users to tell 911 dispatchers their details, so help can be on the way faster. 
• Share Location: The Lyft app provides real-time ride tracking, so riders can share their exact location and route with family and friends. Riders can turn it on or off at any time from the home screen or by tapping the Safety Tools in the Settings tab. Once a user enables this feature, a user's family and friends (who they shared their location with) can see trip status and where they are on the map, ensuring that their location is shared with their trusted contacts.
• Smart Trip Check-In: In some cases, if we notice your ride has stopped too soon or for an unusual amount of time, drivers and riders will hear from Lyft. We'll ask if you need support, and if necessary, we'll give you the option to request emergency assistance. 
• Two-way rating and feedback system: Lyft has a two-way rating system with mandatory secondary feedback. If you rate a driver three stars or fewer, we'll make sure you aren't matched together again. If you rate a driver less than four stars, you're required to provide more details about the rating. Lyft looks into low ratings and regularly reviews community feedback to inform our policies and product features.

How we respond:
• Critical Response Line: Lyft was the first ride-sharing platform to develop a dedicated Critical Response Line for passengers and drivers to report safety concerns. During and after the ride, our dedicated Trust & Safety team is accessible 24/7 so passengers can always reach a live person if they have concerns or feel unsafe and so we can take action - including investigating and working with law enforcement when appropriate - to keep our community safe.
• How our team is trained: Lyft safety specialists on the Trust and Safety team undergo six weeks of training, designed to prepare safety specialists for the most challenging components of their work. Training covers a variety of topics, including how to advocate for Lyft community members, be an effective listener, listen to and speak with victims, communicate with alleged offenders, and work with law enforcement. Trust & Safety team members will also now receive 40 hours of training from the National Organization of Victims Assistance. NOVA is the oldest national organization of its kind. Training covers foundation-level topics for victim assistance including: trauma-informed care; crisis intervention; communication skills; and deescalation.
• While we collect details and reach out to offer support, we may put a hold on the account of any community member involved. Our policy is that any driver that is involved in an incident is immediately disabled and not allowed to drive until the issue has been fully adjudicated.

Working with law enforcement:
• We have a dedicated Law Enforcement Response team that operates 24/7. Our policy is to respond to 100% of valid law enforcement requests.
• Our job is to keep the Lyft community safe, and that extends to protecting their personal data. Like many companies, Lyft has a process for working with law enforcement while abiding by our privacy policy (read more about this here). Pursuant to our privacy policy, we require a subpoena or other valid legal process in order to disclose user information.
• We have this as our policy for a number of reasons. First, this protects a user's (and potential victim's) identity and personal information, pursuant to our privacy policy. Second, this allows the user to be the core decision-maker when it comes to deciding whether and how to report an incident, including what options and processes they would like to pursue in reporting. It is critical that users have as much agency as possible when deciding how they would like to respond to an incident.

Partners:
• We know that our safety efforts can't rely on technology alone. To ensure we're doing as much as possible to protect our community, we've partnered with expert organizations. These organizations include RAINN, It's On Us, the National Organization for Victims Assistance, the National Association of Women's Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriffs' Association and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement.
• By working with such organizations, we are able to get customized, expert opinions and suggestions and amplify the impact of our safety efforts.
• We recently announced a new partnership with ADT to pilot new safety features. As a leading security and automation provider, with 145 years of security experience and the largest network of security professionals, there is no better partner for Lyft."

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