Uber, Lyft still in legal limbo as Jefferson Parish business groups brought in to help resolve dispute _lowres

In this photo taken on Dec. 16, 2014, a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A Lafayette woman is suing Uber and a former driver for the company who has been charged with raping her after picking her up from a downtown bar. 

Maurice Racca, 55, was arrested Oct. 1, 2017, the same day the woman claims she awoke in Racca's rideshare vehicle to him rubbing her while parked outside her apartment in south Lafayette.

The victim rushed inside the apartment and closed the door, but Racca allegedly followed and forced his way inside, according to a June 18 civil lawsuit, which states that Racca “imprisoned her and committed sexual assault, sexual battery, rape and battery."

The victim told Lafayette police that Racca struck her bottom lip with a closed fist, according to an incident report. She was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center.

The victim, who was 22 at the time, had been drinking in a bar in downtown Lafayette prior to ordering an Uber car, and fell asleep on the way to her apartment. The incident was reported at 3:01 a.m., according to the police report.

Racca was released on a $100,000 bond. 

Racca was charged with second-degree rape and aggravated burglary in a May 1 bill of information in 15th Judicial District Court. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23.

Uber spokesperson Jodi Page said in an email that Racca’s access to the company’s platform “was removed as soon as this was reported to us last year.” Page said the description of events is “deeply upsetting,” and declined comment on the court proceedings.

Attempts to reach Racca via publicly listed phone numbers were unsuccessful. Racca’s attorney in the criminal case, Kevin Stockstill, did not return a call.

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The Lafayette case coincides with corporate upheaval within Uber resulting from sexual assault allegations against drivers, including an April 26 open letter addressed to the company’s board of directors by 14 sexual assault victims. The letter slammed the company’s policy of forcing customers to settle all claims in private arbitration.

The company responded May 15 by modifying the policy to allow individuals to pursue sexual assault and harassment claims against the company in open court. The new policy does not include class-action claims like the one the authors of the open letter are pursuing in federal court in the Northern District of California.

As part of that announcement Uber said it will allow claimants to settle with the company without a confidentiality agreement, if they choose. Additionally, the company committed to creating a “safety transparency report” to include information on “sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform.” There is no timetable for rolling out the transparency report.

The civil suit against Racca echos some of the claims in the class-action suit in California, which accuses the company of hiring drivers without adequate identity verification or background checks. The class-action lawsuit also zeroes in on Uber’s history of marketing itself as a safe alternative to intoxicated driving.

The attorney representing the victim in the civil case, Kevin Duck, said Uber makes contradictory statements about itself.

Uber describes itself strictly as a mobile transportation application when trying to differentiate itself from taxicab companies, Duck noted. When marketing itself to customers, however, the company portrays itself as providing a service equivalent to that of a taxicab, he said.

“I don’t think Uber gets to talk out of both sides of its head,” Duck said.

He suggested Uber consider taking a cue from drug commercials that describe possible side affects along with benefits.  

“Maybe Uber should simply say, listen, we attempt to put a driver with a passenger, and we exercise due diligence and background checks, but we cannot guarantee your safety,” Duck said. 

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.