Five months after he was carjacked while driving for Uber, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage to his car, David Morrow finally received an offer of assistance from the company: $1,000, the amount of his insurance deductible. But there was a catch—Morrow would need to sign a nondisclosure agreement promising to not sue Uber, disparage the company, or talk any further about his carjacking or the details of his settlement.
The offer came a day after The Markup approached Uber and Lyft about an investigation into more than 100 carjackings of ride-hail drivers, including the February attack on Morrow in Atlanta. But Morrow didn’t take the offer.
“I would be signing all my rights away,” said Morrow, who’s 71 and has completed almost 5,000 Uber rides. “I would have no recourse.”
In 2018, Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West, announced the company was dropping the mandatory arbitration agreements and confidentiality provisions it had with drivers, riders, and employees for individual claims of sexual assault or harassment. Lyft quickly followed suit. But in the case of driver carjackings, both Uber and Lyft still appear to be using the tactic. The Markup is aware of a Lyft driver who signed a nondisclosure agreement after being carjacked.
Ashley Adams, a Lyft spokesperson, said that when incidents like carjackings are reported to the company, it immediately reaches out to the driver. “While every instance is unique and dependent upon the driver’s specific needs, our specialized Safety team works to provide meaningful support to drivers and their families,” she said. “We can’t comment further on legal matters.”
Uber spokesperson Jodi Kawada Page said it’s been widely reported that ride-hail drivers have been “affected” by carjackings and that “these trends have been evolving and changing and we have been trying to remain flexible in our approach so we can support drivers with their unique situations.”
Settlement, confidentiality, nondisparagement, and nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, have become commonplace with Silicon Valley companies—an industry known for its secrecy and for going to great lengths to shield itself from liability and conceal business dealings from the public.
In an investigation into NDAs last week, Business Insider spoke to 36 tech workers from companies including Facebook, Apple, and Google who’d signed such agreements promising to not discuss experiences like workplace harassment and discrimination. When these types of agreements are leaked, it’s typically by company employees who’ve become whistleblowers—like Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, both of whom worked at Pinterest and alleged pay discrimination.
Pinterest didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But how gig economy companies—like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash—may be pressuring aggrieved drivers and delivery workers to sign these agreements is still largely unknown.
“When drivers accept a ride, they are forced to assume all risk—they have no guarantee of safety, no idea if the person they collect will assault them, murder them, rob their car,” said Shona Clarkson, an organizer with the driver advocacy group Gig Workers Rising. “We know that Uber tries to cover their tracks by paying off drivers and driver families so that they can avoid a needed reckoning with how dangerous and violent this job can be.”
Uber’s Page said, “Not sure how this could be the case since there are plenty of examples of drivers that have shared their stories and have also received support from us.” Neither she nor Lyft spokesperson Adams responded to questions about how many of their drivers and delivery people have signed NDAs or in what instances the companies require them.
Gig workers—whom the companies treat as independent contractors and not employees—are particularly vulnerable to signing their rights away in exchange for assistance, experts say. Following a robbery or carjacking, gig workers may be scrambling to pay for hospital bills and property damage. Gig workers also tend to be low-wage workers, so something like $1,000 can be a powerful incentive to sign.
The companies “think they can make these things disappear for a small amount of money,” said Jodi Short, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “They’re in a much more powerful bargaining position.… They hold the cards in this relationship.”
On the early February morning when Morrow was carjacked, the Uber app matched him with a passenger named “Rico,” according to an incident report from the Atlanta Police Department. Morrow picked up two men and drove them to their destination, an apartment complex. After the men told him to drive to the rear of the building, he saw one was holding a black assault rifle, and the other then put a handgun to the back of Morrow’s head and said, “Give it up.”
The men took off with not only Morrow’s 2021 Honda Accord but also with his $900 Samsung smartphone and $800 prescription sunglasses. They had his house keys too, which cost around $25 to replace. He had insurance to cover the car but had to pay the $1,000 deductible. And because he didn’t have a car after the incident, he wasn’t able to work for at least a week. According to the police, no one has been charged in his case.
The Markup reached out to Uber two weeks ago for comment on Morrow’s carjacking and the company’s lack of assistance in the aftermath. At the time, Uber’s Page didn’t respond to questions about Morrow but said, generally speaking, “We have worked to provide drivers who are facing hardship due to these types of incidents with support.”
Hours after we published our report, Page reached out to The Markup in an email, saying, “I’ve since learned that we’ve worked with David Morrow to offer support.” When asked what type of support was offered, she responded, “Information on support to individual drivers is private and not our place to share.”
The Markup later learned that Uber approached Morrow with the offer of $1,000 in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement only after we contacted the company about his case.
Uber’s Page did not respond to questions about the NDA sent to Morrow or when it was sent.
Attorneys say companies primarily use such agreements to keep people quiet and to stave off legal liability.
“There’s a possibility that someone brings a class-action lawsuit for any driver who’s been carjacked or assaulted by an individual, who they were connected with by Uber,” said Bryant Greening, an attorney and co-founder of Chicago-based LegalRideshare, who reviewed the agreement for The Markup. If he had signed the agreement, “David would not be able to participate in that class-action lawsuit.”
The agreement would also prevent Morrow from discussing the settlement, including the $1,000 payment or details of the carjacking as they relate to Uber. He’d be limited to the phrase, “The matter was resolved.”
The final requirement in the agreement is a nondisparagement provision, which Greening said is a catch-all obligation that doesn’t relate specifically to the carjacking. With the nondisparagement provision, Morrow would have to agree to not take public action or make statements that criticize Uber. If he breached this agreement, Greening said, Uber could theoretically sue him or seek repayment of the money given him.
“It’s important that the public sees documents like this. A lot of times, as a community, we don’t understand how big corporations operate and maintain their positive image,” Greening said. “The way companies try to silence victims is shocking.”
When asked about offering drivers NDAs with confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses, Uber’s Page said that “nothing prevents individuals from talking about the facts of their experiences or the specific incident.”
As for Morrow, on top of the financial blow from the carjacking, he said he still feels anxious. He’s afraid to pick up passengers, so now he only accepts rides at the airport, which feels safer. But declining other rides has consequences: Morrow is a long-time, highly rated driver who’s earned “Diamond Status,” but to keep that status he must maintain a certain acceptance rate for rides or lose perks like getting preference at the airport.
Morrow said he got matched for a ride with someone just outside the airport last week. “I picked him up and took him where he wanted to go,” Morrow said. But as he was driving with the man in the back seat, “I had a flashback,” he said. “It’s still affecting me.”
DoorDash didn’t respond to a request for comment.
This article by Dara Kerr was originally published on The Markup and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.