IZUMO engineering VIETNAM

The ride-hailing company is being sued after two women

cIf successful, this case could have sweeping repercussions for the company because Uber would be forced to exert more control over its drivers, who are classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Uber is the most valuable venture-backed company in the world, worth more than $50 billion.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Uber to boost its safety standards by adding several new measures. These include creating 24-hour customer support hotlines in all cities in which it operates; requiring all drivers to install GPS tracking systems on their cars that would set off an alarm if deactivated; disabling child-lock features on passenger doors; and conducting fingerprint-based background checks and in-person interviews with drivers.

Uber declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit.

The San Francisco-based company has come under fire for dozens of sexual assaults allegedly carried out by its drivers worldwide. A handful of states, including California and Texas, have launched investigations into Uber, claiming it routinely fails to adequately screen drivers and has hired drivers with criminal histories.

Uber's website says the company has "strict safety standards" and that "the Uber experience has been designed from the ground up with your safety in mind." Before driving for the company, drivers must pass several background checks through a third-party firm called Hirease. In the US, would-be drivers' names are run through seven years of county and federal courthouse records, a multistate criminal database, a national sex offender registry, and Social Security and motor vehicle records. Uber says it rejects anyone who has a history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, gun-related violations or resisting arrest.

"Liability boils down to whether Uber could have foreseen the drivers' misconduct," said Sarju Naran, an attorney who chairs Hoge Fenton's employment law group. "Even with thorough background checks, it is often difficult to predict if or when someone might engage in violent or other criminal acts. But with or without liability, there's no way to avoid the reputational damage caused by these types of incidents."

Two attacks, one lawsuit

Jane Doe 1's alleged assault took place in Boston at around 2:30 a.m. local time on February 8, 2015, after she and her friends had been at a party, the complaint says. The Uber driver dropped off Jane Doe 1's friends first, drove her along an off-route detour and then groped her and forcibly kissed her, according to the complaint. She managed to unlock the car door and escape.

The complaint says Jane Doe 2 was at a bar with friends in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 9, 2015, when they were picked up by an Uber driver. After dropping off her friends, the driver drove Doe 2 to a remote parking lot and raped her, according to the complaint. Doe 2 then escaped and got help.

Uber barred those drivers from its service immediately after the incidents were reported, according to a company spokesman.

"Our thoughts remain with the victims of these two terrible incidents," said the Uber spokesman in an emailed statement. "We proactively worked with law enforcement in Massachusetts and South Carolina at the time to share information and aid their investigations. Both drivers have been permanently removed from the platform."

Dozens of alleged sexual assaults by Uber drivers against passengers have been reported over the past year, within the US and in India, France, China and Canada.

"No woman should have to be physically violated because a company has decided to put profits over safety," said Douglas Wigdor, of Wigdor LLP, who filed the lawsuit. Wigdor also represented the hotel maid who brought sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund. That suit settled in 2012 for an unspecified amount.

Update, 3:09 p.m. PTwith comment from Uber spokesman.