Uber taps Eric Holder to investigate explosive sexual harassment claims

Uber is bringing in an outside team, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to investigate scathing accusations that the company protected a manager who sexually harassed multiple women at the office.

The allegations published in a blog post by a former Uber engineer over the weekend describe Uber’s human resources team making excuses for a male manager who propositioned a female engineer for sex and engaged in inappropriate behavior with other women.  The post appears to have sent shock waves through the company — even in an industry where complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment are far-from unheard of — and prompted a resurgence of the #DeleteUber Twitter hashtag.

CEO Travis Kalanick jumped into damage-control mode shortly after the post was published, promising to review the allegations and publish a diversity report.

“What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what’s happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace,” Kalanick wrote in a memo to employees Monday, the day after the blog post surfaced. “It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”

Kalanick promised to bring in Holder and Tammy Albarran, both partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to investigate Rigetti’s claims. Uber board member Arianna Huffington will join the investigation, as will Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey and Associate General Counsel Angela Padilla. Huffington was expected to join Kalanick at a company “all hands” meeting Tuesday.

In the blog post, Susan Fowler Rigetti says shortly after joining Uber in 2015, her new manager began propositioning her for sex over the company’s chat messaging system. He told her he had an open relationship with his wife, and was looking for new partners, Rigetti wrote. Rigetti took screenshots of the messages and reported him to human resources, she says, but was told this was the manager’s first offense and he would receive only a “stern talking to.” Rigetti wrote she was forced to join a new team at Uber so she wouldn’t have to have contact with the manager.

Rigetti says she later found out HR had lied, and that hadn’t been the manager’s first offense. In fact, she wrote, multiple women at the office had reported him, and continued to report him, but the company did nothing.

Instead, Rigetti says she was punished for complaining. The company gave her a negative performance review and denied her a second transfer she wanted.

The issues were part of a larger problem of discrimination within the company, Rigetti wrote. In one instance, Uber ordered leather jackets for its male engineers but the director refused to place an order for the women on the team, saying there weren’t enough women to get a bulk discount.

“When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women,” she wrote. “By the time I was trying to transfer to another (engineering) organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.”

The online response to the post by Rigetti, who now works at Stripe, was overwhelming. The blog post has more than 6,600 “likes,” and her tweet sharing the post has been re-tweeted more than 21,000 times.

Photo: A  woman leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco in 2014. (Eric Risberg/AP)

 

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  • Makikiguy

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