Uber has been ordered to pay a $59.1 million fine to the California Public Utilities Commission for repeatedly refusing to comply with its requests for data about the company’s 2019 sexual assault report.
On Monday, an administrative law judge ruled that Uber must pay the fine within 30 days and turn over the data or CPUC can revoke Uber’s license to operate within California. Uber “refused, without any legitimate legal or factual grounds, to comply” with multiple previous administrative rulings ordering it to turn over the data, Monday’s ruling said. Last December, following intense public pressure, Uber issued a report that said it had received 3,045 reports of sexual assault in the US in 2018 – an average of more than eight per day.
Days later, CPUC – the agency responsible for regulating ridesharing services like Uber – demanded more information from Uber, including the names and contact information for all authors of the safety report, witnesses to the alleged assaults (including victims), and the person at Uber each incident was reported to. “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,” an Uber spokesperson said.
Uber had also argued that the data would end up in the hands of “untrained individuals” and that regulators hadn’t asked other rideshare companies for similar information. In a January ruling, however, an administrative judge addressed Uber’s privacy concerns by allowing the company to submit the information to CPUC under seal to shield it from public view. Still, Uber refused to comply, and according to Monday’s ruling, “inserted a series of specious legal roadblocks to frustrate the Commission’s ability to gather the information that would allow the Commission to determine if Uber’s TNC operations are being conducted safely.”
An Uber spokesperson blamed the CPUC for delays and adjustments to its data request that resulted in the fine, telling: “These punitive and confusing actions will do nothing to improve public safety and will only create a chilling effect as other companies consider releasing their own reports. Transparency should be encouraged, not punished.”
But Monday’s order said that Uber “failed to respect the authority” of the January ruling, instead choosing to “roll the dice” on legal challenges that largely raised the same issues judges had already rejected. The ruling reflects Uber’s long history of playing hardball with state and local regulators, including by refusing to share data, deceiving authorities, relying on illegal lobbying tactics, and threatening to close up shop when lawmakers try to pass tougher regulations – including regulations aimed at improving rider safety.