Uber Fires 20 Employees After Sexual Harassment Claim Investigation

Jun 6, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 12:14 pm

Ride-hailing firm Uber has fired about 20 of its employees, including some senior executives, after an investigation into more than 200 sexual harassment and other workplace-misconduct claims.

The company is not commenting on the findings of the report from Perkins Coie, which was hired after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler last year alleged that she was sexually harassed, and her complaints disregarded by the company's human resources department.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco company held an all-hands meeting for its 12,000 employees, where it discussed those findings and, according to a source familiar with the meeting, 40 additional employees were reprimanded or referred to counseling and training. Uber set up a hotline where employees and former employees could file complaints.

The findings from the investigation will feed into a second, broader report from former Attorney General Eric Holder due out next Tuesday, which will include more detailed recommendations for how Uber should address and remediate its workplace culture.

The case has has gotten attention in part because Silicon Valley already has a reputation for attracting and catering to male tech talent, but not to women. So, in a way, Uber is a test case for how serious the tech industry is about fixing its gender-diversity problems.

Uber has rapidly become a household name. It's hugely successful with investors. But it is also a consumer brand, and consumer brands have to care very much about their public image. And that's an area where Uber has struggled recently.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The ride-sharing service Uber has fired 20 employees, including senior executives. This follows an internal investigation into sexual and other forms of harassment against its employees. For more, we're joined by NPR business correspondent Yuki Noguchi, who's in our studios this morning. Hi, Yuki.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So 20 people fired - so clearly there was something damning in that report. What did the investigation reveal?

NOGUCHI: Well, the investigation started with a female blogger, a former software engineer, who talked about her experience with sexual harassment and the company's unwillingness to address the problem once she brought it to their attention. So this is what prompted Uber to hire two law firms. There are going to be two reports. This is the first one. The next one is due out next week, and that one is going to be authored by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

So what Uber did, basically, was set up a hotline to solicit, from employees, any other claims that might have come up. Two hundred and fifteen claims were made. And so this first investigation looked at those claims. They said 100 of those claims didn't turn out to have any merit. But, you know, that means 115 did.

And so, as a result of that, they have taken action to reprimand some of the people involved in those incidents or send them to training. And then, as you mentioned, 20 employees actually lost their jobs.

MARTIN: You mentioned the second report. This is led by an attorney with some name recognition. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting this investigation. So how is that going to be different?

NOGUCHI: Yeah, that report comes out next Tuesday. And that one's going to be broader. That one is a set of recommendations for how Uber is supposed to change its culture, what steps it needs to take.

MARTIN: The going-in position is Uber has a problem (laughter).

NOGUCHI: Yes, the going - I think it's pretty clear at this point that Uber has a pretty pervasive problem that affects even top management. And so - so that - these are going to be steps that the company needs to take to actually change its culture. And so those recommendations will sort of be broader and more sort of systemic, if you will, of the company.

MARTIN: And prescriptive, sounds like.

NOGUCHI: Yeah.

MARTIN: What's at stake here? I mean, Uber has had a lot of problems, I think it's fair to say. The CEO has been embroiled in a couple of different scandals. I mean, this issue in particular, this cultural problem, how...

NOGUCHI: Why is it important?

MARTIN: ...What does it mean for...

NOGUCHI: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Silicon Valley, too?

NOGUCHI: Right, right. So for Silicon Valley, it - there is a lot of talk about how women in technology are sort of not either, you know, fostered or promoted. But - so this is an example of that. So this is why - you know, this is why the company wants to address it. This is why there's a lot of attention from Silicon Valley.

But, you know, in terms of also, like, why it's important, I mean, this is - Uber is a brand name.

MARTIN: Yeah.

NOGUCHI: It's a consumer brand. And anytime you have a consumer brand, they have to care about their public image. And if their public image is one that, you know - well, as you pointed out, there's a lot - been a lot of public relations problems for Uber. But this is one that I think speaks to a lot of women, which would make up, you know, maybe half of their customer base.

MARTIN: Yeah.

NOGUCHI: So that's another reason why they'd have to care about this.

MARTIN: NPR's business correspondent Yuki Noguchi, thanks so much for talking with us about this.

NOGUCHI: Thank you.

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