In an unprecedented move, Uber has fired 20 employees and issued warnings or mandatory training to dozens more based on the results of an internal investigation into widespread allegations of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and other misconduct among its 12,000-person workforce. Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer broke the news on Tuesday:
Law firm Perkins Coie LLP led the investigation, reviewing 215 human-resources claims; while it took no action in 100 instances, it’s still probing 57 others. There’s also a separate investigation commissioned by Uber that’s being led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. That group shared detailed findings with a subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors, but a summary isn’t expected to be made public until next week, a person familiar with the matter said. Uber also plans to take action on some of the report’s findings next week, the person said. …
Some of the people fired were senior executives, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. The company didn’t name the employees who were let go.
Perkins Coie’s investigations are not over, Bobbie Wilson, the attorney leading the effort, tells Recode’s Kara Swisher, and more employees may yet be disciplined. Wilson says that Uber gave the firm “unfettered access to current and former employees” as well as some 600,000 internal documents:
“We were very dogged about the investigation,” said [Wilson], who did not break out the categories of corporate misbehavior. “We were a very neutral fact-finder and let chips fall where they may.” But those chips are still falling, she added, noting that the investigation continues to root out bad behavior at Uber. … That means there are likely to be more firings, as well as disciplinary actions, at the company. …
The process included interviews with those who complained and those who were accused, as well as any relevant witnesses. After that, said Wilson, “we made recommendations to the company and they abided by them.” Among the 20 fired were senior execs, sources said, although Wilson did not disclose specific names.
“Sometimes an allegation was not sustained or was resolved between the parties,” said Wilson, who noted that the goal was to help employees feel heard. “One of the reasons you bring in an outside investigator, no question, is that you want people to have faith in the process and, frankly, they are often more comfortable about being frank with us.”
Experts in employment law are astonished at the scale of Uber’s decision. “This is enormous,” one attorney told the Washington Post:
“For corporate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct to lead to firing 20 people, I know of no comparable corporate action. It’s unprecedented,” said Debra Katz, a partner with Katz Marshall & Banks, a Washington-based firm specializing in representing employees who bring sexual harassing claims against companies. “This is a significant action by Uber to give a strong message to take these actions seriously.”
Katz said Uber’s decision cast doubt on earlier comments by board member Arianna Huffington, who is on a committee overseeing Uber’s workplace culture and who had said that Uber had “some bad apples” but that the company’s problems were not systemic. “This seems to suggest that they cannot simply say it’s only a few bad apples here.”
In addition, Uber executives are now being much more forthright about the troubling cultural roots behind these findings of widespread misconduct. The Wall Street Journal reports that Uber’s head of diversity, Bernard Coleman, said at a public event on Tuesday that the company’s culture issues are likely related the company focusing more on its product than its workplace as it grew. He likened the present effort to fix Uber’s culture to trying to “retrofit” a house “to make it the place you know it should be,” and acknowledged that the size of the company and widespread inexperience of its managers (63 percent have no prior management experience) have made that process more difficult. Diversity and inclusion training is on the way as well, explained Coleman, as is a team-by-team inclusion index for the company.
Bloomberg‘s Newcomer also notes that Bozoma Saint John, one of two executives recently hired to help Uber repair its reputation and reform its culture after a tumultuous and scandal-ridden six months, will serve as the ridesharing company’s chief brand officer, focusing on changing its image and crafting its brand story. She is now the highest ranking black executive at Uber.