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Rape victim sues Uber for digging into medical records

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-06-2017 AFP

San Francisco: A woman raped by an Uber driver in India filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the on-demand ride service of invading her privacy and defaming her character. The woman, a Texas resident, had settled an earlier lawsuit with Uber stemming from the 2014 sexual assault.

The new case filed in San Francisco federal court comes after Uber’s firing of Eric Alexander, an executive who read and discussed medical information about the rape victim. Alexander was named as a defendant in the litigation, along with Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick and former senior vice-president Emil Michael, according to a copy of the court filing posted online by Wigdor law group representing the woman.

San Francisco-based Uber parted ways this week with number two executive Michael, who had been reportedly linked to questionable company practices, including a visit to a South Korean escort-karaoke bar and an attempt to dig up embarrassing information on journalists.

Uber executives “duplicitously” decried the rape publicly while privately getting hold of her medical records and speculating that the woman may have colluded with a rival ride-sharing company to hurt its business, lawyers said in court documents. The driver in the case in India was convicted in court and sentenced to jail time.

Uber did not reply to an AFP request but US media reports cited a company statement saying: “No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.”

The lawsuit calls for a jury to decide whether Uber violated the woman’s privacy and defamed her, and then award appropriate damages. Uber has said Kalanick will take an indefinite leave of absence after the company unveiled steps aimed at restoring public confidence.

The pioneering firm has been facing pressure to rein in a no-holds-barred management style led by Kalanick and to reform its workplace culture, which has sparked charges of harassment and discrimination.

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Kalanick said one of the reasons for his stepping aside was the recent death of his mother, explaining he needs time off “to reflect, to work on myself and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.”

Uber simultaneously released a list of major reforms to be implemented based on a probe led by former US attorney general Eric Holder, who investigated allegations of misconduct and ethical lapses. The Holder investigation was aimed at cleaning up a corporate culture marred by accusations of harassment, discrimination and cutthroat practices to thwart rivals and evade regulators.

Uber, the world’s richest venture-backed start-up valued at some $68 billion, operates in dozens of countries despite problems with regulators in many jurisdictions and protests from established taxi operators.

Last week, Uber said it had fired 20 people following preliminary results of the investigation, after examining 215 claims of discrimination, harassment, unprofessional behaviour, bullying, retaliation and “physical security.”

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