An Uber driver in France has been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a female passenger outside a nightclub in Paris. As first reported by French daily Le Parisien, the unnamed driver is due to appear before a judge on May 29th and, if convicted, could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($82,000).
Uber has come under increased scrutiny for its safety record in recent months, after one of its chauffeurs in India was arrested on charges of raping a female passenger late last year. The taxi-hailing company is also in the middle of an ongoing legal battle in France over its UberPop service, which has been deemed illegal under regulations that went into effect at the beginning of this year. Last week, 25 police officers raided Uber's Paris offices as part of an investigation into the service.
Driver was "immediately suspended"
According to Le Parisien, the alleged assault occurred on January 17th, when the accused chauffeur drove a young woman and two of her friends to the Show Case nightclub along the Seine River. According to a complaint filed with the police, the driver dropped off the two friends near the nightclub, but drove a little farther before letting the woman out because she was seated in the front passenger seat and was not curbside. It was there, according to the woman, that he ordered her to perform oral sex. A dispute ensued and the woman filed charges, but the driver has denied any wrongdoing.
In a telephone interview, Thomas Meister, spokesman for Uber France, said the driver was "immediately suspended" when Uber was notified of the incident in January and that the company "is offering full cooperation to the police." Meister added that the driver went through a background check prior to joining Uber. Le Parisien reported that he had been previously arrested for driving without a license, but Meister says such minor offenses are not mentioned in background checks, under French privacy protection laws.
Uber has sought to strengthen its safety measures following the alleged rape in Delhi last year. In December, the company announced plans to use biometric scanning to enhance background checks, after cities in California sued it for misleading customers. It has also introduced an SOS button that allows passengers to immediately call the police in the event of an emergency. The button is currently only available in India, though Meister says it's not clear if or when similar features will be launched in other markets.