In April 2017, a pregnant woman requested a ride home via UberPool after a doctor's appointment at a Miami clinic. But what she thought would be an inconsequential encounter turned into a nightmare: After the driver dropped off the other passenger, the woman says, he forcibly kissed her, groped her breasts, and placed her hand on his erection.
"You're so pretty. Your eyes are so pretty. Your belly is so pretty," the driver told her, according to court documents.
The woman is now suing Uber for negligence and the driver, Dayron Lopez Diaz, for assault, battery, and false imprisonment. (Diaz pleaded guilty to related charges of false imprisonment and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in May 2018.) In a civil suit filed last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the woman alleges that Uber was negligent in its screening, training, and hiring of Diaz and that the company misrepresents itself as a "safe ride."
Hussein El Rashidy, one of the attorneys representing the woman, told New Times in an email that his client is "scarred for life" from her interaction with Diaz.
"Her interpersonal relationships have suffered tremendously and her ability to lead a normal life is all but gone," El Rashidy says. "All that being said, it appears that Uber could not care less about my client's condition."
An Uber spokesperson said she could not comment on pending litigation and provided New Times with the company's community guidelines related to sexual conduct. The spokesperson cited safety features for passengers, including an emergency button with 911 integration, a "Ride Check" if the company detects an unexpected stop or crash, and address history deletion. In court filings, the company has denied the allegations of negligence and said it did not "hire" Diaz, because it considers him an independent contractor.
The attorney who represented Diaz in the criminal case, Sabino Jauregui, says his client always maintained his innocence, "but he simply did not want to continue to be imprisoned without the possibility of bond or release."
According to the woman's complaint, after she got in the UberPool, Diaz picked up a second passenger and dropped him off first. When Diaz and the woman were alone in the car again, he asked about a tattoo on her chest and reached over to touch it, court documents say. She asked him to take her home.
The woman, identified only as Jane Doe in court filings, began feeling afraid when Diaz said he heard it was good for women to have sex while they are pregnant. She again asked him to take her home.
In court documents, the woman says Diaz took a longer route to her home and stopped several houses away from her place. He took off his seatbelt, turned toward her, and forcibly kissed and touched her, court records say. According to the legal complaint, he lowered the zipper on her sweatshirt and forced his fingers into her bra. He asked her if she'd ever had sex with a Cuban man, and when she said no, he grabbed one of her hands and put it on his erection.
The woman says she said no to Diaz's advances repeatedly and again when he said he wanted to take her to his house. Afraid of what he might do, she said she would take his phone number and call him later if he took her home. He eventually agreed.
When she returned home, the woman called Miami police. Officers had her do a controlled call, during which she told Diaz to return to her home. He was arrested upon arrival and later sentenced to 364 days in jail and five years of probation.
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A 2018 CNN investigation found at least 103 Uber drivers across the United States had been accused of sexual assault or abuse over the course of four years. As just one example, a woman says she was raped by a Wynwood Uber driver over Labor Day weekend in 2017. The driver, Fredrick Gaston, told police that sexual activity with passengers, consensual or otherwise, was a "perk" of the job.
Gaston had a history of violence the company might have known about if it had a strict policy for uniform background checks. Uber conducts background checks through a third party, Checkr. In a 2018 New Times story about the woman's case, a spokesperson defended Uber's background checks despite criticism that the company's lax policies are putting vulnerable passengers in the hands of predators.
Uber's community guidelines prohibit physical contact, sexual assault, and unwanted attention from drivers. In the past couple of years, the company has updated its policies to rerun criminal background checks for drivers every year, but everything is done electronically. Drivers are not uniformly interviewed in person or fingerprinted.
"The number of reported sexual assaults and rapes of female passengers by male Uber drivers has skyrocketed in the last several years with no real meaningful response taken by Uber," the pregnant Miami woman's lawyers argue in the civil suit.