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.
I wrote something up this weekend about my year at Uber, and why I left: https://t.co/SyREtfLuZH— Susan Fowler Rigetti (@susanthesquark) February 19, 2017
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.
This is outrageous and awful. My experience with Uber HR was similarly callous & unsupportive; in Susan's case, it was reprehensible. 😡👎🏻 https://t.co/eSiOuHSMjU— Chris Messina 🦅 (@chrismessina) February 19, 2017
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.
Dear #Uber Let me know if Susan J Fowler is a liar or if you do not know how to run an HR department and protect your employees?— TheGoodJoffrey (@TheGoodJoffrey) February 19, 2017
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.
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."
2/ I've instructed our CHRO Liane to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.— travis kalanick (@travisk) February 20, 2017
He has instructed Liane Hornsey, Uber's new chief human resources officer, to investigate the allegations.
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.