In December 2020, a judge ordered Uber to pay $59 million to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Uber was fined for failing to share rideshare sexual assault data with the CPUC.
If the company does not pay the fine within 30 days, Uber could lose its operating permit in the state of California.
Update: Uber is appealing the $59 million fine. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence advocacy group, supported the rideshare company’s decision to protect the contact information of sexual assault survivors. Since 2019, the two organizations have been working together on sexual violence education initiatives to reduce incidents of rideshare assault.
What Is The CPUC?
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is the regulatory agency that oversees public utilities and transportation companies in the state. The CPUC often looks into complaints filed against transportation companies.
In December 2019, the CPUC requested sexual assault data from Uber. The rideshare company denied the request.
Uber Safety Report & Sex Assault Data
In December 2019, Uber released its first public US Safety Report documenting motor vehicle fatalities, physical assaults and sexual assaults reported to the rideshare company between 2017 and 2018. According to the report, Uber received roughly 6,000 reports of sexual assault during the two-year period.
The report’s release was Uber’s first attempt at transparency regarding the safety of its services. However, Uber is facing a $59 million fine for failing to share report data with the CPUC.
“Uber is wrong when it argues that compliance [with earlier rulings] will violate a sexual assault victim’s privacy that California law is designed to protect. Rather than casting itself in the role of a victim of regulatory overreach, it is Uber who is playing the part of the obstructionist who has prevented the commission from carrying out its regulatory, investigative and enforcement duties.”
CPUC Requests Uber Sex Assault Data
The CPUC’s request for data came shortly after the 2019 Uber safety report was released. The CPUC asked questions regarding the report’s authorship and approval. Additionally, the regulatory agency asked for specific assault details collected by Uber.
According to Uber, the CPUC’s request would compromise the “anonymity of assault victims.”
Uber Claims To Protect Victims
Uber spokesperson Andrew Hasbun explained in a statement, “the CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent. We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates.”
The CPUC has vowed to protect the data and identities of assault victims. It argues the data is necessary to ensure public safety.
Hasbun acknowledged that recently the CPUC agreed to let Uber provide anonymized victim information. However, the company is still being fined for not adhering to the initial requests despite the change.
“We can provide anonymized information — yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered.”
$59 Million Fine
Uber refused to answer the CPUC’s questions and data requests for nearly a year. The judge presiding over the case described Uber’s actions as legal roadblocks designed to thwart the CPUC’s efforts toward public safety. The judge fined the company $7,500 for every instance in which Uber refused to answer questions. The total figure amounts to $59,085,000.
In January 2021, Uber appealed the $59 million fine. Uber continues to claim its decision to withhold the data stems from its desire to protect victims. Tony West, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer, explained, “While it may be well intentioned, [contacting those individuals] can lead to the retraumatization of survivors.”
The rideshare company’s appeal was supported by the advocacy organization RAINN.
“Companies should be commended, not penalized, for their transparency and commitment to protecting survivors.”
RAINN and Uber have had a partnership since 2019. The two organizations came together to develop a sexual assault and misconduct training program for Uber drivers. The program was launched in August 2020.
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Public Utilities Commission of the State of California. (2020, December 14). Order Instituting Rulemaking on Regulations Relating to Passenger Carriers, Ridesharing, and New Online-Enabled Transportation Services [PDF].
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