March 2020 Legal Report
Print Issue: March 2020
Sexual assault. Twenty people—19 women and one man—filed a class action lawsuit against the ridesharing company Lyft, alleging that the company puts riders in danger.
The women behind the suit claimed they were either raped or sexually assaulted by drivers; they are the latest group to accuse Lyft of significant safety failures. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and want Lyft to install cameras in every driver’s car.
Lyft said its drivers are prescreened for any criminal or driving offenses before they can begin driving passengers, and the company claims it continuously screens for criminal offenses during the driver’s employment. Besides background checks, Lyft also said that since 2015 it has made various safety changes, including adding a “panic button” to its app and providing sexual harassment prevention courses for drivers.
The lawsuit alleged that despite the safety policies, women were still attacked by drivers. “For four years, Lyft…has known of the ongoing sexual assaults and rapes by Lyft drivers upon Lyft customers,” the suit said. “Lyft’s response to this sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers has been appallingly inadequate.”
Further, the suit alleged that the company failed to conduct adequate background checks on drivers and allowed drivers accused of rape or assault to continue driving.
“Sadly, Lyft’s priority is not passenger safety,” the filing said, adding that drivers have also reported assaults while driving for Lyft.
As of Security Management’s press time, at least 55 women had filed or joined lawsuits alleging Lyft drivers assaulted them. A court date has not been set. (Jane Roe 1, et al. v. Lyft Inc., et al., Superior Court of the State of California County of San Francisco, No CGC-19-581262, 2019)
National defense. A U.S. citizen pled guilty to intentionally and illegally keeping classified and national defense information, which included details on U.S. military programs.
Ahmedelhadi Yassin Serageldin, 66, a systems engineer for defense contractor Raytheon Company, admitted to taking the information from his office without appropriate approval and keeping it unsecured, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
In a press release, the DOJ also noted that Serageldin possessed thousands of paper documents and electronic files with information belonging to Raytheon or the U.S. Department of Defense, including five specific, classified secret documents with information on U.S. military programs involving missile defense.
The charge of intentionally keeping documents concerning national defense and not delivering them to the United States (also known as superseding information) can result in up to 10 years in prison, with three years of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss.
Serageldin’s sentencing is scheduled for 24 April 2020. (United States of America v. Ahmedelhadi Yassin Serageldin, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 18-CR-10436-PBS, 2019)
Counterterrorism. Two U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill promoting sharing information on potential terrorist threats.
Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Rob Johnson (R-WI), both on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced the Increasing Efficiency of All United States-Based Terrorism Information Sharing Act of 2019 (S. 3142) that would create a federal commission to review how counterterrorism information is shared amongst government agencies and how to improve communications throughout government.
The commission would also analyze law enforcement’s ability to identify, find, and prevent terrorist threats in the United States, according to a press release from Hassan’s office.
With input from U.S. state and local law enforcement, the commission would gather representatives from various agencies, including the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.
Cyberattacks. Hassan and Johnson also introduced legislation that would give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) the ability to subpoena Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide information when weaknesses have been detected in critical infrastructure systems.
The Cybersecurity Vulnerability Identification and Notification Act of 2019 (S. 3045) would give CISA the legal power to notify critical infrastructure operators that their systems—including power grids, dams, and airports—are vulnerable to cyberattacks.
If passed, CISA would also be required to provide annual reports to Congress and the public on the number of cybersecurity vulnerabilities it addressed and owners informed of subsequent investigations.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Corruption. Ukraine enacted an amendment that establishes protections and financial incentives for corruption whistleblowers.
The amendment (No. 1010) made changes to Ukraine’s anti-corruption laws, including providing monetary rewards to those with tips linked to high-profile corruption crimes—specifically where the incidents resulted in damage of more than UAH 10 million ($417,200, approximately) to the state budget.
The amended law, adopted by Ukraine’s parliament Verkhovna Rada, defines a whistleblower as a person who discovered corruption—or corruption-related offenses—while working in their professional capacity or while conducting mandatory activities under existing law. The amendment creates secure forms of communication for whistleblowers to report and remain anonymous.
Additionally, the amendment prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers, or their close relatives, for reporting corruption. If fired, whistleblowers can be reinstated to their former positions and compensated for an absence of up to one year.
Anti-Semitism. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order reclassifying Jewish people as a national origin. The move gives the U.S. Department of Education more authority to address anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses.
The executive order redefines the group from a religion to a national origin and is designed to quell anti-Semitism on campuses under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, the order also prohibits protests or criticisms against Israel. This has caused some Jewish groups and free speech advocates to oppose Trump’s action.
Drug trafficking. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned a Guatemalan mayor, four citizens, and five businesses for associating with a drug trafficking organization.
The United States designated Guatemalan mayor Erik Salvador Suñiga Rodriguez (also known as “El Pocho”) and the Suñiga Rodriguez drug trafficking organization (DTO) as significant foreign narcotics traffickers.
OFAC also sanctioned four additional Guatemalan nationals for “providing material support to Erik Suñiga Rodriguez and the Suñiga Rodriguez DTO,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Another five Guatemalan businesses were designated as associates of the organization.
The sanctions were filed under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), which denies Suñiga Rodriguez and its associates access to the U.S. financial system and any property or interests in the United States.
The action was the result of coordinated efforts by OFAC, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the government of Guatemala, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the U.S. Southern Command, and other U.S. government partners, as well as a multiagency task force coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces.
Elsewere in the Courts
Discrimination. Jorge Casamitjana Costa filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging he was unfairly disciplined and dismissed from his position as a zoologist due to his veganism. Costa worked for the League Against Cruel Sports, a U.K.-based animal welfare charity, which claims he was fired for gross misconduct for disclosing that the charity invested pension funds in pharmaceutical and tobacco firms that used animal testing. The U.K.’s Employment Tribunal will hear Costa’s case in March 2020 and could issue a ruling to determine if veganism is protected under the 2010 Equality Act. (Casamitjana v. League Against Cruel Sports, The Employment Tribunal, No. 3331129/2018, 2020)
Fraud. Kevin Williams and Babatunde Olusegun Taiwo were sentenced for their roles in a tax fraud scheme where they claimed $12 million in refunds. Taiwo, Williams, and others obtained personal identifying information (PII) that was leaked in a data breach of a payroll company. They used that PII to file more than 2,000 fraudulent tax returns with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Williams was sentenced to 78 months in prison for tax fraud, voter fraud, and re-entering the United States after being removed. Taiwo received a sentence of 48 months for tax fraud. (United States of America v. Babatunde Olusegun Taiwo, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, No. 4:18CR161-CDP, 2019)
Harassment. The Jackson National Life Insurance Company agreed to pay out a $20.5 million settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The commission filed the lawsuit on behalf of 21 plaintiffs, claiming that the company allowed for a hostile work environment for women and African American employees in the Denver, Colorado, and Nashville, Tennessee, offices, violating their civil rights. The suit also alleged that the company discriminated against those same employees through inferior pay, compared to white male employees, and by passing them over for promotion in favor of less-qualified candidates. The suit claimed that employees who filed grievances were retaliated against by Jackson. According to the EEOC, along with the financial component of the settlement, Jackson must designate an Internal Compliance Monitor and use an external consultant to review its equal employment opportunity policies and any future complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. (EEOC et al. v. Jackson National Life Insurance Company et al., U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, No. 16-cv-02472-PAB-SKC, 2020)