Fourteen women are suing the ride-hailing company Lyft over what they are calling the company’s mishandling of a “sexual predator crisis” among its drivers.
The women, who are unnamed in the suit, allege Lyft drivers sexually assaulted or raped them in 2018 and 2019, based on a copy of the suit. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in San Francisco, where the company is based.
The suit claims Lyft mishandled the situations by limiting safety precaution measures on the app and alleges the accused sexual predators were kept on as drivers even after victims reported them.
Mary Winfield, the head of Trust and Safety at Lyft, said the allegations outlined in the suit have “no place in the Lyft community.”
“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,” Winfield said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Five of the 14 women in the suit say they were raped, including a woman who is blind.
The allegations are wide-ranging but include accusations of drivers locking women in cars and going on multiple hour detours after cancelling rides before assaulting and raping the women.
In the complaint, the lawyers claim that certain aspects of the crimes could not happen if Lyft “had undertaken simple and basic changes to the app.”
Lawyers for Estey Bomberger, the San Diego-based law office that filed the suit, said in the complaint that Lyft should use a more thorough background check process and monitor its rides.
The lawyers said Lyft should implement surveillance cameras that capture video and audio, as well as inform passengers when a driver goes off course or ends a ride before the destination.
The complaint also says Lyft has an obligation to report statistics about sexual harassment and assault by its drivers, as the company brands itself as a safe alternative for women to get home.
“It’s not unique. It’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to keep everything suppressed so they don’t get bad publicity,” Steven Estey, of Estey Bomberger, told USA Today. “The reality is, when you advertise yourself as being a safe alternative and safe ride, and in fact it’s the opposite, it’s fairly frustrating.”
The suit also alleges that Lyft does not cooperate with law enforcement on these cases. It says Lyft has no policy to report such crimes and has failed to provide records “that are critical for law enforcement investigations.”
Lyft said it investigates and works with law enforcement when appropriate. The company also said it continuously invests in new products and features to keep its drivers and passengers safe, including an enhanced identity verification process announced in April.
Lyft said it has also begun rolling out an in-app Emergency Assistance button for riders to contact 911. Its competitor, Uber, has had such a feature for more than a year.
Lyft said its driver applicants are screened for criminal offenses, and its annual background checks provided by a third-party company includes searching the U.S. Department of Justice sex offender registry.