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Lyft fails to protect passengers against sexual assault, harassment, lawsuit claims

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Ride-hailing company Lyft has failed to conduct adequate background checks for its drivers, allowing for a pattern that "induces" young, unaccompanied or intoxicated female passengers to use its service and subjects them to harassment and sexual assault, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in California.

The lawsuit, brought by 1,000 unnamed plaintiffs, alleges that as early as 2015, Lyft became aware that drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female customers, and despite complaints made to the company, it "continues to hire drivers without performing adequate background checks" or implement "reasonable driver monitoring procedures."

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"Unfortunately, there have been many sexual assaults much worse than the ones suffered by plaintiffs as alleged herein, where victims have been attacked and traumatized after they simply contracted with Lyft for a safe ride home," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in the County of San Francisco.

The plaintiffs reside in several states, including California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Nevada.

San Francisco-based Lyft, the nation's second-largest ride-sharing service, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the complaint.

The lawsuit says the company has not met the minimum reasonable consumer safety expectations, has not adequately warned of the risks involved through its app, and negligently hired drivers without proper reference checks and anti-sexual assault training policies.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.

The company has previously said it continually conducts criminal record checks of its drivers, offers optional anti-harassment training and is planning for further safety improvements. Drivers, however, cannot be forced to complete trainings since they are contractors.

The company also said last month that it would release a transparency report similar to one Uber did last summer, detailing sexual assault reports and other incidents that hve been reported by users of the app.

The lawsuit includes a Los Angeles-area woman who said she was raped by a Lyft driver in October 2018 after he told her, "I love you," and took her phone. Lyft failed to tell the woman if the driver was ever fired after she said she filed a police report.

Another plaintiff in Charleston, South Carolina, said she was asked to pay for her ride with money and sexual favors, with the driver telling her "gratuity is for pocket and yummy is for me." She said she jumped out of the car before the ride ended. She added that she filed a police report, but was never told if the driver was fired.

The lawsuit also lays out a stream of complaints made on social media by women who have said the company has failed to take their concerns seriously.

Earlier this year, Anna Gilchrist tweeted how she was scared for her safety after a Lyft driver asked if her boyfriend was home and then refused to unlock the car door during a ride home. The actor and writer from Los Angeles had to pry the door open and jump out, she said. It was not immediately clear if Gilchrist's case is part of the lawsuit.

After calling Lyft about what happened, "It truly felt for all intents and purposes like I was speaking to a robot," Gillcrist told NBC News last month.

Gillcrist's initial tweet had gone viral, and the company later confirmed that the driver had been removed from the platform.