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In February, a former Uber engineer named Susan Fowler published an essay on her blog, detailing allegations of sexual harassment and sexism at Uber. Fowler alleged that Uber’s human-resources team systematically had ignored her multiple reports of sexism and sexual harassment during the year she worked for the company. She had been propositioned for sex, she wrote, and when she tried to report the manager who did it, she said she was told Uber wouldn’t take action against him because the company didn’t want to ruin the career of a “high performer.” Fowler’s manager allegedly later threatened to fire her if she tried to report his boss again. (“I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog,” Uber C.E.O. Travis Kalanick said in response to the blog post. “What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It’s the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”)
Now, according to public filings reported by investigative news outlet Reveal News, another former Uber employee has come forward with allegations about Uber’s company culture. The unnamed former Uber employee says he was fired in 2016, after he went to Uber’s human-resources department to report the harassment his female colleagues said they were facing. The employee filed a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which, according to Reveal News, says his female co-workers “sought his intervention regarding alleged sex-based discrimination and harassment they were suffering at the hands of a male supervisor.” After they approached him for help in 2015, he allegedly went to human resources with their stories. “We get a lot of phone calls from employees that we don’t always act on,” someone in Uber’s human-resources department allegedly told him, and didn’t investigate further. Shortly thereafter, in March 2016, the employee was fired, the complaint says. (Uber did not respond to a request for comment.)
Fowler’s allegations kicked off a series of damning reports about Uber’s company culture, and Uber began an investigation into its corporate culture, spearheaded by former attorney general Eric Holder. (The results of Holder’s review are expected to be announced next month). A New York Times report in February cited dozens of Uber employees who described an aggressive and often sexist culture, including an incident in which an Uber manager allegedly groped female co-workers during a company retreat in Las Vegas. (The manager was fired within 12 hours, the Times reports.) The retreat also reportedly featured drug use and an employee taking co-workers for a joyride in a private shuttle bus. In a separate incident, the Times reports, an Uber manager “threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.” (Uber’s chief human resources officer Liane Hornsey said in a statement the the Times: “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”)
There may be no better example of Silicon Valley hubris than Uber: its C.E.O., 40-year-old Kalanick, is known for his arrogance and his brash demeanor (“We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi,” he said in 2014 at Code Conference). Uber was successful in its earlier days by operating in cities without asking permission, building a sizable user base the company would in turn use as leverage over regulators. The company raised more than $8 billion in funding at a $68 billion valuation. But if recent months are any indication, this aggressive, unforgiving way of operating as a company—which seems to have manifested itself in Uber’s corporate culture—may also be contributing to its downfall.
Uber is currently battling a lawsuit that could potentially devastate its self-driving ambitions. This week, Judge William Alsup issued a partial injunction, ruling that Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the heart of the intellectual-property lawsuit Google filed against Uber, could no longer work on any of Uber’s laser-sensor technology projects, though the company can continue developing autonomous cars, for now.