Uber Hires Former US Attorney General Holder for Sex Harassment Investigation

Ride-sharing service facing new boycott threat.

by on Feb.21, 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick called for an expedited investigation of sexual harassment charges by a former engineer at the company.

Facing new calls for a boycott in the face of sexual harassment charges, Uber has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an “urgent investigation” of charges leveled against the company by former engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti.

Over the weekend, Rigetti posted a blog, titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” alleging a climate at Uber that not only discouraged female engineers but showed no interest in pursuing their complaints and concerns through the corporate human resources department.

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The widely reported post came in the wake of a series of other embarrassing setbacks for Uber, including a brief boycott that resulted in thousands of the service’s users deleting their smartphone apps to protest connections between Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and President Donald Trump. New calls for a boycott, using the #DeleteUber hashtag, have emerged since Rigetti’s post began to go viral.

On Monday, Kalanick announced plans for an “urgent investigation” into Rigetti’s charges, which were backed with screenshots of sexual propositions made by a former supervisor on her first day of work at Uber. The one-time engineer claimed that her concerns were dismissed and she continued to face a variety of obstacles at Uber that ultimately led her to quit after a year. Rigetti also claimed that the share of women engineers at the company fell from 24% to just 6% during her tenure.

Holder, who served as the original attorney-general under former Pres. Barack Obama, will lead the investigation, along with Tammy Albarran, both partners in the law firm Covington & Burling. Holder previously was brought in by travel service Airbnb to deal with allegations of discrimination involving its online lodging service.

(Sex harassment claim raises more problems for Uber. Click Here for the story.)

Holder and Albarran will be joined by Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington News Service and an Uber board member, as well as Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human resources officer, and the company’s associate general counsel Angela Padilla, according to a Kalanick memo.

Kalanick issued a statement responding to Rigetti’s charges, calling the issues she cited, “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in.”

Uber needs to address the situation quickly, and be “as transparent as possible,” said analyst George Peterson, head of the consulting service AutoPacific Inc. “They need to be sure to conduct the investigation and confirm or refute the claims. They have to be absolutely thorough.”

A darling of Wall Street and the foundation of a broader “sharing” revolution many expect to radically transform the auto industry itself over the coming decades, Uber has been hit by a variety of problems during the past year, including charges of sexual and physical assault by some of its drivers and a corporate resistance to efforts to improve driver background checks. It pulled out of San Antonio rather than meet strict new guidelines.

(Daimler developing ties to Uber. Click Here for more on plans to introduce a fleet of autonomous Mercedes models.)

Uber also pulled a fleet of autonomous Volvo SUVs out of San Francisco last month rather than comply with regulations requiring it to apply for a state permit. It subsequently moved that pilot program to Arizona.

Then, last month, it was accused of trying to take advantage of a boycott by some New York cab drivers angered by Pres. Trump’s immigration ban. The ride-sharing service quickly announced it also opposed the White House order, even offering legal help to workers who may be impacted. But the #DeleteUber boycott reportedly led thousands to abandon the service.

Kalanick subsequently announced he was also quitting the president’s new economic advisory council.

But analysts are warning that the latest news could further tarnish the company’s image.

(To see more about Kalanick quitting Trump’s advisory panel, Click Here.)

“They have to get out in front of this,” said AutoPacific’s Peterson.

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