The popular ridesharing company Uber Technologies is under investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for reportedly discriminating against women in both hire and pay. The investigation, which began last August, is still underway amidst other controversies including safety concerns and alleged racial discrimination.
Three women sued Uber last fall for discrimination based on both gender and race. Ingrid Avendano, Roxana del Toro Lopez, and Ana Medina filed the lawsuit last October, saying that “Uber’s compensation and other practices discriminate against women and people of color.” They went on to say that this has caused them to lose out on earnings, promotions, and benefits.
Uber has had a particularly difficult time getting out of hot water. In 2017, the company was accused of harboring a competitive workplace environment that pitted their employees against each other and excused inappropriate behavior by their top performers. According to the New York Times, there have been many allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior that have gone unchecked or addressed by Uber.
Some of these allegations include one Uber manager groping female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas, a director shouting a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting, and another manager threatening to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.
Much of this came to light following a February 2017 blog post by Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber.” In the post, Fowler describes what she endured while working at the company, an experience she describes as strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying.
After her first day joining her team, Fowler’s manager sent her a string of messages about his open relationship and what she understood as him propositioning her to have sex with him. Fowler reported this to Human Resources, who told her that they did not see the incident as sexual harassment and that they only felt comfortable giving him “a warning and a stern talking-to” due to his “high performer status” and this being his first offense.
Then they reportedly gave Fowler two options: “(i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that.”
After this first incident, Fowler learned from other women in the office that similar things had happened to them, some even with the same manager, yet all had been told that this had been his first offense. Even when the women went together to report him, Uber’s HR was reluctant to take any action and “blatantly lied” about the situation. The manager eventually “left” the company. Fowler goes on to describe a hostile and competitive work environment where HR often failed Uber employees regarding their concerns or reports.
Following the slew of reports, including allegations of illegal behavior by Uber executives such as spying on and stealing secrets from rivals, Uber’s co-founder and chief executive, Travis Kalanick, was eventually forced out of the company. His successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, has pledged to reform the company, but it is still unclear if these changes are enough to counteract the damage that has been done by the company.
Only a few weeks ago, allegations of racially insensitive comments were brought against Uber’s new chief operating officer Barney Harford after he was hired to reportedly help fix Uber’s past issues. The New York Times also reported that Uber’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Liane Hornsey, resigned amid accusations that she improperly handled complaints of racial discrimination at the company. She reportedly gave no reason for her exit, sending an email to employees that her departure may “come a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while.”
In an email, Uber spokeswoman MoMo Zhou said that the company had “made changes in the past 18 months, including new salary and equity rules based on the market, a new performance-review process, and diversity training for employees.” But there have not yet been indications that such changes have been made. With the ongoing investigation, hopefully the truth of this company’s behavior will be brought to light and properly dealt with.
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