In 2014, then-CEO Travis Kalanick, then-SVP of Business Emil Michael, and others visited a “karaoke” bar in Seoul, Korea which was staffed by “escorts.” Each woman was labeled with a number so customers could pick them out.
Emil Michael later attempted to cover up the visit.
A former Uber engineer sued the company, alleging that its “stack ranking” system of evaluating employees had an unfair and disproportionate impact on women.
Bloomberg reported on research about stack ranking:
Academic researchers have found that performance rating systems like stack rankings play to managers’ unconscious — and conscious — biases. Reviewing a decade of performance reviews at a “large professional services firm,” Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, a senior research fellow at Harvard Law School, found that women were 1.4 times more likely than men to receive critical feedback in highly subjective categories.
For example, in one pair of reviews a female employee was described as having “analysis paralysis.” A man with the same behavior was praised for his careful thoughtfulness. “There is a lot of bias in the system, more than in the people,” Cecchi-Dimeglio said.
Microsoft faced similar litigation in 2015, and Goldman Sachs in 2010. Both those companies ended the practice, as did Uber before the filing of this lawsuit.
Litigation docket including complaint.
An October 2017 lawsuit alleged that Uber has discriminated against women and certain minority employees, leading them to receive reduced earnings, promotions, and benefits (including stock options and bonuses). The lawsuit argues: “In this system, female employees and employees of color are systematically undervalued compared to their male and white or Asian American peers.”
Bloomberg reports that Uber hired private investigators to monitor an employee, China strategy chief Liu Zhen. It seems Uber’s concern was that Liu’s cousin Jean Liu is president of ride-hailing competitor Didi Chuxing.
Bloomberg further reports Uber surveilling competitors, and conducting “extensive vetting on potential hires.”
The use of private investigators was overseen by Joe Sullivan, Uber’s Chief Security Officer, through a team called Strategic Services Group.
In March 2017 remarks, in response to a widely-circulated blog by former Uber employe Susan Fowler about sexual harassment and the company’s refusal to respond to complaints of sexual harassment, Uber Board Member Arianna Huffington denied that sexual harassment at Uber was a “systemic problem”:
Yes, there were some bad apples, unquestionably. But this is not a systemic problem
In sharp contrast, when former Attorney General Eric Holder and colleagues examined misconduct at Uber, their report found 215 complaints of inappropriate workplace conduct, yielding at least 20 firings, 31 retrainings, and 7 final warnings.
In response to an internal review, Uber fired 20 employees for harassment, discrimination, and inappropriate behavior. 31 other employees were undergoing further training, and 57 additional complaints remained under review.
Fortune reports that Uber’s engineering team is just 15.1% women — calling that figure “bad–even by tech industry standards.” (Compare Facebook at 17%, Google at 19%, Apple at 23%, and Airbnb at 26%.)
In February 2017, the New York Times reported misconduct by Uber employees: A manager groped a female co-worker’s breasts at a company retreat, a director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate, a manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee with a baseball bat, employees used cocaine at private parties, and an employee hijacked a shuttle bus and took it for a joy ride.
In a February 2017 lawsuit, Google alleged that Uber stole proprietary Google technology for autonomous cars. Google reported that Anthony Levandowski, an original member of Google’s self-driving car project, downloaded over 14,000 confidential files (9.7GB) pertaining to Google’s designs and testing, and used this information in Otto, a self-driving company that Uber later acquired. Complaint.
When Levandowski refused to testify or otherwise cooperate with litigation, invoking the Fifth Amendment to refuse to incriminate himself, Uber fired him.
Litigation brought by Benchmark Capital indicates that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick knew, before acquiring Otto, about the likelihood that Levandowski had Google materials. In particular, in March 2016, a month before Uber acquired Otto, Uber retained an investigator to assess whether Levandowski and others had Google materials. Benchmark Capital further alleges that Kalanick never shared this information with Uber investors.
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
Uber employees visited a South Korean escort bar.
When one member of the party later complained, Uber SVP of Business Emil Michael contacted a person who had been there to ask that she tell anyone who asked that it was just karaoke. She refused, taking his request for a cover-up as impetus to discuss the incident publicly.
Details from The Verge.