Erica Holland, a cabaret performer and dancer, says she was getting out of her Uber car near a Hollywood nightclub when her driver shoved his hand under her skirt and groped her genitals.
In her June 22 lawsuit in Superior Court, Holland blames Uber for not checking fingerprints or running serious background checks of applicants before taking them on as drivers.
As a result, she says, attacks by drivers are common.
“Ms. Holland joins over 200 other female victims who had been sexually assaulted by Uber drivers — possibly thousands,” the complaint states.
On Monday this week, just four days after Holland sued the company, Los Angeles police arrested another Uber driver for allegedly sexually assaulting an intoxicated passenger in a motel room where he’d brought her after she fell asleep in his car.
That driver, Alaric Spence, has five felony convictions for possession of narcotics for sale across the state, according to news accounts, but apparently he had been driving for Uber for six months. Police said he may have other victims.
The new cases arrive as the $7 billion transportation company is facing growing legal, cultural and public relations challenges, capped by the resignation last week of embattled founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.
In a brief emailed statement about Holland’s lawsuit, an Uber spokesperson said: “What this rider reported is awful. Our Community Guidelines prohibit any sexual conduct and we removed the driver’s access as this matter continues to be reviewed.”
But Holland’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, said Uber “doesn’t have proper safety measures in place to protect women.”
“Over and over again, they’ve been accused of sexual assaults” by drivers, said Bloom, a legal commentator and author who is the daughter of attorney Gloria Allred.
The lawsuit’s claim of “over 200 victims” may be based on data from a website maintained by the national Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which lists 233 alleged sexual assaults by drivers from Uber and chief competitor Lyft.
Perhaps the best known recent lawsuit is that of a woman who sued Uber in San Francisco for allegedly exposing her medical records in an effort to discredit her claim that her driver in India raped her. She says top company officials, including Kalanick, were directly involved in the actions against her.
Holland says in her 16-page complaint that she requested an Uber ride late on June 9 to take her to her performance at a Hollywood nightclub called Pour Vous. She was bringing large bags of costumes and props with her, some belonging to other performers.
Her driver, identified only as Hamzik, told her to put the things in the back seat because his trunk was full and told her to sit in the front seat.
As soon as she got in and he began driving away, Hamzik “violently scooped and grabbed Ms. Holland’s hair and pulled her head towards the center of the car,” she says in the lawsuit. He let go, but she “felt weak, frozen and paralyzed in fear.”
Bloom said the driver attempted to stop the car several times during the 10-minute ride and ultimately let her off about half a block from the club. As she began to climb out of the car “with her back side in view of Hamzik, Hamzik then shot his hand up her loose dress, managing to touch her vagina through her underwear while making a sexually explicit comment,” she says.
Holland told friends and police about the incident soon after she arrived at the club. But more than a month later, she says, she still is “traumatized and continues to tremble when she recounts the above events.”
She says Uber “is directly liable for its negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of Hamzik” and for advertising its service “as ‘a ride you can trust’ with ‘safe rides’ for women.”
Uber does not carefully verify documents people submit when they apply to be drivers, she claims. “Unlike traditional taxis and limousine services, Uber refuses to require fingerprinting or adequate law enforcement background checks for its drivers.”
Instead, it has lobbied states to limit regulation of its practices.
As a result, Holland says, “hundreds if not thousands of crimes committed by Uber drivers against their riders were reported in the years 2015 and 2016 alone, ranging from theft to sexual assault, kidnapping, and rape.”
The company’s attitude displays “a willful and knowing disregard of the rights and safety of others, especially women,” Holland says.
She asks the court to order Uber to establish policies to protect women riders, including mandatory sexual harassment awareness training, cameras in cars, additions to the Uber cellphone app allowing women passengers to request women drivers and a panic button to summon police.
Bloom said the company has already added a panic button feature to the app in India.
Holland also seeks attorney’s fees and punitive damages for negligent hiring, misrepresentation, sexual battery, assault, emotional distress and civil rights violations.