Uber fires 20 after investigation sparked by engineer's sexual harassment claims

Uber fires 20 people for sexual harassment allegations

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has fired 20 employees after some 200 claims related to sexual harassment, bullying and other workplace issues surfaced in the wake of a February culture scandal.

Uber confirmed the news in a statement Tuesday, adding that the dismissals were not related to an impending internal investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, which is due out June 13.

The firings, first reported by Bloomberg, were announced at an all-hands meeting at the company's headquarters Tuesday.

Bloomberg reported that law firm Perkins Coie allegedly reviewed 215 sexual discrimination charges at the company, and "took no action in 100 instances as it continues to investigate 57 others; meanwhile, 31 employees are in counseling or training, while seven received written warnings from the company."

Perkins Coie did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of those details.

Uber's corporate culture came under sharp scrutiny after a February blog post by former engineer Susan Fowler, who described her year at the company as being rife with sexual harassment.

Specifically, her male boss repeatedly made unwanted advances and when she complained about him to human resources personnel, Fowler was told that her boss was highly valued and would not be disciplined. She was told her only options were to stay quiet or transfer to another division.

In response to the news about the firings, Fowler tweeted Tuesday that claims from top Uber officials — namely board member Arianna Huffington and new human resources boss Liane Hornsey — that sexual harassment wasn't a big issue at Uber were off base.

"Arianna and Liane to press: there is no systemic sexual harassment, just Susan. External lawyers: there are 215 cases of sexual harassment," Fowler tweeted.

In an interview with USA TODAY last month, Hornsey said that after conducting 200 "listening tours" with some of the company's 12,000 employees, she found that sexual harassment did not come up as a major issue. Instead, morale and pay were top concerns.

"Other things came up that are in that area, that our values are masculine and a little aggressive, but the harassment issue, I just didn’t find that at all," said Hornsey.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has responded to the accusations that his company is a sexist sweatshop by holding a series of employee meetings in which he pledged to address the issues and even hire a second in command. The search for an Uber chief operating officer is still underway.

Kalanick has been out of the spotlight since his mother was killed and his father injured in a boating accident on May 26.

Uber's issues also extend to a lawsuit from Google's self-driving car company, Waymo, which claims that some of Uber's self-driving car technology was stolen by Anthony Levandowski, who had worked at Google before starting self-driving truck company Otto, which Uber bought last summer for around $680 million. Uber fired Levandowski a week ago.

In recent days, Uber has made efforts to show that it hopes to be proactive about changing its culture. Those include the hiring Monday of Harvard expert Frances Frei, who will report to Hornsey.

Frei, who has been advising the company for a few months, is the author of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. She specializes in helping organizations transform themselves, and is known for her work on trying to close the gender gap at Harvard Business School.

On Tuesday, Uber announced that it had also hired longtime marketing expert and Apple employee Bozoma Saint John, who previously was head of music and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo Inc.

Bozoma joins the company as chief branding officer, and is instantly be one of the most high-profile African-Americans at the ride-hailing company, along with new diversity and inclusion head Bernard Coleman III.

Kalanick said in a statement that "Boz has a long track record of successfully creating emotional connections between people and the products they love. Her creativity and deep understanding of consumers will allow us to build the same love and appreciation for Uber’s brand as we’ve built for Uber’s service.”

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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