Uber Hit With Class Action Lawsuit In Australia

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Uber Technologies Inc. is facing a class action lawsuit in Australia even as the ride-hailing giant gears up for its highly-anticipated initial public offering in the U.S.

More than 6,000 taxi drivers and car-hire operators across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have signed the class action lawsuit, accusing Uber of illegal operations in Australia and destroying their livelihoods.

The lawsuit filed on Friday by law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in the Victorian Supreme Court and it deals with the period before Uber was legalized in those jurisdictions.

The lawsuit alleges that Uber operated illegally as it knew its drivers were not properly licensed and accredited when it first entered the market.

National Head of Class Actions, Andrew Watson, said the case had been about 18 months in the making and involved public meetings across the country with thousands of registered participants. The lawsuit is backed by a third-party litigation funder, Harbour Litigation Funding Ltd, which has hubs in the UK and Asia-Pacific.

"Uber sells the idea that it does things differently, but in reality and as we allege, this has meant operating unlawfully, using devious programs like 'Greyball.' All of this caused extensive loss and damage to law-abiding taxi and hire car drivers, operators and licence holders across the country," Elizabeth O' Shea, Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn, said.

The New York Times first reported in 2017 that Uber used a tool called Greyball to deceive law enforcement officials in cities where its service violated regulations. The software program prevented law enforcement officials from monitoring Uber's app.

According to Shea, Uber exploited people by operating outside of regulations and the company's conduct led to "horrible losses being suffered by our group members."

Shea added that there were registrants to the lawsuit and will not have to bear out of pocket costs or liability risk, as the costs of the case are being underwritten by Harbour.

A spokesman for Uber said the company has not yet been served with a class action claim in Australia. The spokesperson added that the company denies the allegation and will vigorously defend itself if a claim is served.

Uber is facing stiff competition in Australia from rivals such as Chinese start-up Didi Chuxing and Indian company Ola.

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