(San Francisco, Ca) — A potentially far-reaching ruling from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer has allowed key claims of a sexual assault civil complaint filed By Razavi Law Group (RLG) against Uber to move forward.
Judge Ulmer—who recently trimmed several civil lawsuits against the rideshare giant filed by other law firms in the ongoing lineup of sexual assault allegations at the hands of drivers—told Uber’s counsel this complaint was worth further consideration.
“Razavi Law Group is pleased with Judge Ulmer’s momentous ruling. But we fully recognize this case is still an uphill battle to find justice for Jane Doe,” RLG Attorney Borna Bandari told the media after the ruling. “Uber needs to be held accountable for the damages Doe suffered from its deceptive business model. A model which still threatens the safety of all women who use the platform daily with the belief their ride is safe, and that their driver has been fully vetted.”
In its Demurrer, Uber sought to distance itself from its drivers and riders, creatively arguing it is nothing more than a technology company that develops smartphone applications. Jane Doe presented arguments that Uber is in the business of providing transportation to the general public, something that most people would agree with. Uber and any other companies offering transportation to the general public will be deemed common carriers. Judge Ulmer overruled the Demurrer with respect to the intentional and unintentional torts, stating the allegations were sufficiently pled for factual development.
Judge Ulmer further refused to strike the Complaint section highlighting Uber’s $57 million lobbying effort to pass Proposition 22, which codified Uber drivers as “independent contractors” with respect to wage claims and benefits. The complaint cites Uber’s funding and influence of Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) to pass legislation that deregulated workers’ rights for drivers, and as Doe contends, passenger safety. Most importantly, the Complaint identifies specific lobbying efforts aimed at reducing the stringent requirements on background checks. Jane Doe claims that Uber holds itself out as a company that does the most while it underhandedly lobbies to do the least.
As a defense, Uber unsuccessfully defended its indirect lobbying as corporate free speech protected under the US Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. Doe was not looking to limit Uber’s free speech, she simply wanted the Court and the general public to understand Uber’s business practices.
In a further equally important and sweeping ruling, Judge Ulmer overruled Uber’s Demurrer with respect to the Ralph Civil Rights Act for gender-based violence, which continues to occur via its rideshare platform after several alleged reforms.
The allegation, if proven true, would hold Uber liable for a hate crime under California law.
RLG plaintiff Jane Doe alleges Uber driver Jason Rodas, 30, of Garden Grove, used the Uber platform to single her out as a target for sexual assault. Rodas picked up Doe en route to her job in the early morning hours of September 9, 2020.
Instead of driving her to work, Rodas canceled the ride and took Doe to a dark industrial park in Santa Ana. After an attempt by Doe to escape, Rodas choked her to the point of blacking out.
Rodas was arrested hours later and charged with single counts of kidnapping to commit a sex offense, attempted forcible rape, criminal threats, and two accounts of assault with force to produce great bodily injury. Uber is denying all liability, regardless of its failure to properly screen Rodas before hiring him.