Against the advice of then-General Counsel Salle Yoo and without support from then-Chief Business Officer Emil Michael, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick pushed forward with the acquisition of Otto, a startup for self-driving trucks.
Bloomberg reports multiple reasons why Kalanick could have been concerned about the deal and Levandowski’s tactics.
One, Otto consisted primarily of ex-Google staff, and Uber’s acquisition of Otto angered Google leaders, including co-founder Larry Page.
Two, before the deal closed, Uber’s investigators learned that Levandowski had possessed five disks of data from Google’s driverless effort including “source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents and software related to Google self-driving cars.” Uber’s investigators also knew that Levandowski’s claims to have destroyed the disks could not be verified. Kalanick said he did not read the investigators’ report.
Three, Levandowski asked Uber to protect him from legal attacks from Google, and Kalanick agreed to do so.
Even when Google sued Uber over the acquisition, and Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination to decline to cooperate with litigation, Kalanick continued to support Levandowski, claiming he would eventually be vindicated.
Bloomberg further reports Kalanick calling Levandowski his “brother from another mother.”
In a 30 minute podcast on Legal Talk Network, Uber then-General Counsel Salle Yoo remarked:
I tell my team, “We’re not here to solve legal problems. We’re here to solve business problems. Legal is our tool.”
She continued: “I am going to be supportive of innovation” — broadly indicating prioritizing innovation ahead of compliance with the law.
In summer 2016, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick sought to acquire a startup called Otto which specialized in self-driving vehicles. According to Bloomberg, then-General Counsel Salle Yoo “expressed reservations about the deal” and insisted on hiring Stroz Friedberg (cyber investigators) to assess any impropriety including the possibility, already known to her and Kalanick, that Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski was bringing files from Google, his former employer.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board wasn’t aware of these concerns, the Stroz findings, or Levandowski’s retention of Google files.
As then-Genreal Counsel Salle Yoo pushed for Uber to comply with the law, then-CEO Travis Kalanick reassigned her from General Counsel to Chief Legal Officer. Kalanick styled this as a promotion, but Bloomberg says his “true intention was to sideline her from daily decisions” (based on assessment from two employees who worked closely with them).
Bloomberg reported that then-CEO Travis Kalanick encouraged then-General Counsel Salle Yoo to create a legal department with what Bloomberg called a “spirit of rule-breaking.” In a performance review, Kalanick told Yoo she needed to be more “innovative.” Bloomberg reports that Yoo considered herself “liberated” by not having to follow “best practices,” being allowed “to do things the way I think things should be done, rather than the way other people do it.” But Bloomberg says Yoo failed to challenge Kalanick and his deputies, or raise objections to Uber’s board.
Through its “Greyball” system, Uber attempted to identify officials investigating its methods, including noting accounts created from within or near regulators’ offices and rides requested from those areas. When a user was classified as affiliated with a regulator, Uber intentionally denied that user’s requests, declining to send a driver—preventing the regulator from finding drivers and bringing enforcement actions against drivers or Uber.
The US Department of Justice launched a criminal probe into Uber about this practice.
The New York Times reported that at least 50 people inside Uber knew about these tactics, and that the program was approved by then-General Counsel Salle Yoo.
Litigation by Uber investor Benchmark Capital reported that, as of August 2017, Uber faced Greyball-related regulatory inquiries in Portland, Oregon; subpoenas from US Attorneys in California and New York; various other city and state inquiries; and an inquiry from the European parliament.
In September 2017, Portland finished its investigation, finding that Uber had used Greyball to block 29 ride requests by 16 government officials whose job it was to regulate Uber.
Portland Bureau of Transportation Audit of Greyball including full audit report
Uber hired a private investigator to interview friends and colleagues of Stephen Meyer, plaintiff in class action litigation against Uber, as well as Meyer’s attorneys. Interviewing acquaintances and professional colleagues, the PI falsely claimed to be “profiling top up-and-coming” leaders and conducting “real estate market research.” When plaintiff’s counsel learned about these inquiries and asked Uber’s counsel whether Uber had hired a PI, Uber attorneys claimed “Whoever is behind these calls, it is not us.” But as evidence mounted, Uber eventually admitted to having initiated the investigation.
In criticizing Uber’s decision to “hire unlicensed private investigators to conduct secret personal investigation of both the plaintiff and his counsel” as well as the “blatant misrepresentations” and “false pretenses” of the investigation, federal judge Jed Rakoff found “sufficient basis to suspect that Ergo had committed fraud in investigating plaintiff through the use of false pretenses” and that Uber’s instructions had furthered the fraud. Uber paid an undisclosed sum to plaintiff and plaintiff’s attorneys to resolve this misconduct.
Rakoff’s decision indicates that Uber’s investigation of Meyer and his attorneys was initiated by Uber then-General Counsel Salle Yoo who sought assistance from Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan.
Private investigator’s report. Uber staff communicated with private investigator using Wickr, a self-deleting messaging app, though some messages were recovered during subsequent litigation.
Meyer v. Kalanick – litigation docket