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Uber has suffered 4 scandals in 10 days

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

It was only one month ago that the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending, after Uber promoted its service during protests at New York’s Kennedy Airport against President Trump’s travel ban. That was a very bad weekend for Uber, and by the end of it, more than 200,000 people had deleted the app and CEO Travis Kalanick had publicly stepped down from a Trump-tapped business council just before it was set to meet at the White House.

But sometimes, for embattled Silicon Valley tech startups, when it rains, it pours.

In the last 10 days alone, Uber has been at the center of four additional, new scandals that have brought more scrutiny on the ride-hailing company—which was already no stranger to scandal—than ever before.

I. Former employee’s bombshell blog post

On Feb. 19, Susan Fowler Rigetti, a former Uber engineer now working at payments company Stripe, wrote an eye-opening blog post alleging that she received repeated sexual advances from a male colleague, reported him to HR, and HR did nothing to address the situation. She also said that other female employees had told her of similar experiences.

After the blog post went live and quickly rocketed around the Internet, Kalanick said in a statement, “What [Fowler] describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in.”

But only three days a later, a deep-dive New York Times story on Uber’s culture suggested that, contrary to what Kalanick said, Fowler’s story is not at all contrary to what Uber believes in.

II. New York Times exposé on bad culture

The Times story published on Feb. 22, citing interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, concluded that Uber’s workplace culture is “aggressive” and “unrestrained.”

Specifically, the Times mentions allegations of a man groping a female coworker’s breasts at a company retreat, homophobic slurs from a manager to a coworker, and physical threats from a manager to a coworker.

Four days after the Times story ran, Uber fired a senior engineer for not disclosing former harassment accusations against him from his time at Google. Uber has also opened up an internal investigation into the many harassment claims, led by boardmember Arianna Huffington and former US Attorney General Eric Holder. But promises of a serious internal review may no longer be enough to smooth over the storm that has resulted from Fowler’s post and the Times story.

III. Google lawsuit

If all of the harassment allegations aren’t enough, Uber is also dealing with a legal threat from a competitor: Google’s self-driving car division, Waymo, filed a serious lawsuit (on the same day as the Times story, by the way) alleging that Uber stole trade secrets and intellectual property from Waymo.

Uber called the lawsuit “baseless,” but Wired reports that the lawsuit is extremely serious and, if it goes Google’s way, could end up with Uber executives getting prison sentences.

IV. Kalanick caught on camera

On Tuesday, Bloomberg shared a shocking video that may be Uber’s most difficult scandal to smooth over: Kalanick, caught on camera, arguing with one of his own Uber drivers over the company’s shifting price policies.

The driver, Fawzi Kamel, tells Kalanick respectfully that the company’s price drops have hurt him financially. The two debate the issue, but it gets more and more heated. “People are not trusting you anymore. … I lost $97,000 because of you,” Kamel says. Eventually, Kalanick accuses him, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh—.” (Kalanick also says “bullsh—” twice in the argument.)

After the video quickly made the media rounds, Uber publicly posted a short email Kalanick sent to all employees. Kalanick apologized to the driver, and added, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” He also appeared to congratulate himself for his apology: “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

In the wake of the video, many have speculated that Kalanick will have to step down as CEO. Rafat Ali, for example, the CEO of travel site Skift, theorized that Kalanick “will become chief evangelist or some such thing.”


But based on the language of his statement, that does not appear likely. Instead, Kalanick and Uber will seek to make amends through an internal investigation and through the executive’s own self-help process.

Can that stanch the bleeding?

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.  

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