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    In this file photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, a woman walks past the company logo of the internet car service, Uber, in San Francisco, USA.

    'Slightly Horrifying': Uber Launches Investigation Into Sexual Harassment Claims

    © AP Photo/ Eric Risberg
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    A former Uber engineer has made serious allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the firm's offices, and claimed management repeatedly dismissed her complaints, protected a repeat offender and threatened to sack her for raising concerns - just the latest in a litany of scandals to rock the firm.

    The accuser is Susan Fowler, who served as a reliability engineer at the company from November 2015 to December 2016. The allegations are outlined on her blog.

    Describing her tenure at the firm as "strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying," Fowler claims a manager propositioned her for sex on her first day. She says her manager sent her a series of messages over the company chat, explaining he was in an open relationship and was having trouble finding new partners.

    "He was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to human resources," she wrote.

    HR's response was resistance, and they, as well as upper management, told her even though it was "clearly sexual harassment" and he was propositioning her, it was his first offense, and they would only give him a warning and a stern talking-to. It was up to her, they said, whether she found another team within the company or stayed in position — although she was warned she would likely receive a poor performance review from the manager if she remained in place.

    However, despite claims the manager's behavior was an isolated incident, Fowler states that as she met more female engineers in the company, she heard similar reports of inappropriate interactions with the same manager. Despite objections being lodged with management in most instances, complainants were likewise told it was the individual's "first offense" and no action would be taken. The man, whom she did not name, eventually left the company.

    She then tried to transfer to a different team, but her request was blocked, with management citing "performance problems" — despite her performance score being "perfect." She was told the performance problems related to "things outside of work or your personal life."

    Uber's head office was 25 percent female when Fowler joined, but this figure had declined to less than 6 percent at the time of her attempted transfer. When she enquired about the dwindling number of women in the company's ranks, a director said women in the company needed to "step up and be better engineers."

    Just prior to her exit from the company, she witnessed another instance of "comically absurd" discrimination — Uber promised branded leather jackets for all staff, but decided not to order them for women as there were not enough women in the organization to justify the purchase.

    In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, a taxi on Market Street goes past the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.
    © AP Photo/ Eric Risberg
    In this photo taken Tuesday, December 16, 2014, a taxi on Market Street goes past the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.

    She complained, and was told if female staff wanted leather jackets, they needed to find some that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men's jackets. HR also told her that she was the "common theme" in all her reports, and asked if she'd ever considered she "might be the problem." Her manager said she was on "thin ice" for filing so many complains, and if she pursued another, she would be sacked.

    "I told him that was illegal, and he replied he had been a manager for a long time, knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal. I reported his threat after to the chief technology officer. They admitted this was illegal, but did nothing."

    Responding to the allegations via Twitter, Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick said what Fowler described was "abhorrent, and against everything we believe in."

    He has instructed Liane Hornsey, Uber's new chief human resources officer, to investigate the allegations.

    This is far from the first time Uber's management has been engulfed in controversy. 2014 in particular, was an annus horribilis for the company; a driver hit three pedestrians, killing one; NY General Manager Josh Mohrer and 13 other senior employees "pranked" rival service Gett by ordering and canceling rides; a driver was sued by a passenger for sexual assault; a driver was arrested mid-trip; a driver with past convictions was charged with misdemeanor battery for striking a passenger and calling him a "dirty Mexican faggot"; a driver was arrested for bringing an unconscious female passenger to a motel and spending the night with her; a driver essentially kidnapped his fare while being chased by a taxi inspector, trying to avoid a fine for driving outside Virginia.

    Uber staff also "pranked" rival service Lyft, ordering and canceling over 5,000 rides; the company was banned in Germany and France, and some US states; a passenger was driven by her Uber driver to a secluded area instead of her home address, then locked the doors — only taking her home after she began screaming; Uber executive Emil Michael suggested the company hire a team of researchers to "dig up dirt" on  journalists critical of the company; several passengers were raped.

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    Tags:
    management, sexual harassment, human resources, work, safety, drivers, passengers, taxis, sex, Uber, Susan Fowler, United States, California
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