Victims of sexual assault, rape, harassment, and gender-motivated violence criticized Uber’s arbitration clause

Fourteen victims of sexual assault, rape, harassment, and gender-motivated violence criticized Uber’s arbitration clause, which prevented them from bringing lawsuits about the harm they suffered. Their letter to Uber’s Board of Directors asked that Uber remove (or agree not to enforce) its arbitration clause as to these complaints. They noted a California case in which Uber aggressively sought to force one of their complaints into confidential arbitration. They also noted pending legislation in the United States Congress and New York State Senate that would disallow companies from requiring victims of sexual harassment or assault to proceed in arbitration.

News coverage from The Mercury News and Recode.

Female engineers sued, claiming unequal pay and benefits

Three Latina software engineers sued Uber, alleging that they, as women and people of color, were paid less than white male and Asian colleagues. They sought to represent all engineers similarly suited in a class action.

Uber ultimately agreed to settle the suit for $10 million. As part of the settlement, Uber agreed to enhance its systems for compensation and reviews, to regularly report diversity metrics, and to assure that company executives review diversity efforts twice a year.

Kalanick criticized SVP Whetstone for reporting escort bar visit to investigators

After Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick and colleagues visited an escort bar and tried to cover it up when asked, one person who had been there contacted Rachel Whetstone, then Uber’s senior vice-president of communications and public policy, seeking guidance. Whetstone in turn reported the matter to Uber’s attorneys, who turned it over to Eric Holder, who was at the time investigating possible improprieties at Uber.

Business Insider described Kalanick’s response:

Kalanick was not pleased. As his head of PR, he felt Whetstone was supposed to be defending the company from stories like these, not be part of them.

BI continued, explaining how some at Uber saw Whetstone as “difficult to work with … or even irrational,” but others saw her “speaking truth to power”:

One employee described her as “intellectually honest.” Whetstone was already rich from her years at Google and wasn’t under the spell of potential wealth, which drove other top players at Uber. “That made her feel like she could speak truth to power with Travis,” a former executive said. “She wasn’t part of the group of yes-men who would never disagree with him.”

For her part, Whetstone had become disillusioned with Uber. In her role as a powerful woman in the company, she was someone who many troubled employees and other insiders felt comfortable venting to. As these people shared stories with her, Whetstone began to see Uber differently. She became angry.

She saw a company that needed to grow up, but that under Kalanick wouldn’t.

Ultimately Whetstone resigned and Kalanick accepted her resignation. BI reports that Whetstone’s exit package included millions of dollars worth of stock as well as keeping Whetstone on as a consultant to save face.

VP of Product and Growth Ed Baker resigned

Ed Baker, who served as Uber’s VP of Product and Growth, resigned after more than three years at Uber. Others at Uber had complained about his behavior. Recode explained:

For example, one person anonymously tipped off board member Arianna Huffington — who is one of the people conducting a wider-ranging investigation into sexism and sexual harassment at the company — via an email that Baker had engaged in a sexual encounter with another employee.

Specifically, said sources, Baker was seen “making out” at an internal Uber event held in Miami three years ago, which was seen by some employees. There was no suggestion of any sexual harassment on his part and the encounter was apparently consensual.

Fired SVP of Engineering Amit Sighal over allegations of sexual harassment

Amit Sighal joined Uber in January 2017 as SVP of Engineering. The next month, Uber asked him to leave. The stated reason was that he reportedly failed to disclose to Uber a “credible” sexual harassment allegation made against him while at Google.

Sighal had previously worked at Google where he was a “Google Fellow” (a prestigious and limited position) and served as the head of Google’s core search ranking team. Some speculated that he left Google due to the same sexual harassment allegation that caused concern at Uber.

Details from Quartz

Salle Yoo demanded $100 million when leaving Uber, got most of it

Business Insider reports that when then-General Counsel Salle Yoo prepared to leave Uber, she sought a $100 million severance package, entailing the repurchase of her Uber shares. Travis Kalanick thought that amount was excessive, but BI says the final amount was “tens of millions” although less than 2/3 of her requested amount.

BI reported Yoo grounding her demand in thoughts about gender:

Yoo thought it was only fair because she had seen male executives ask for huge exit packages and get them. She had spent her career at Uber encouraging women to lean in. So she took her own advice, opened her negotiations with Kalanick by shooting high and held her breath.

Escort bar visit

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.

“Stack ranking” employee ratings allegedly disadvantage women

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.