Uber vows investigation into new sexual harassment allegations, but criticism intensifies

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Amid new accusations of sexual harassment inside Uber Technologies Inc. made by former engineer Susan Fowler, #DeleteUber is once again going the rounds.

On its first time out of the blocks – dictated by anti-Trump fervor – it’s thought the hashtag resulted in the loss of about 200,000 customers. This time, it seems to have picked up more speed, according to some reports, raising questions about whether the new allegations will damage the company further. For the first time ever last month, Uber saw fewer downloads on iOS that its closest competitor, Lyft Inc.

Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick seems to have taken the matter of damage control seriously. As a direct result of scandal No. 1, he resigned from Donald Trump’s advisory council, pitched in a few million bucks in support of immigrants and signed a letter avowing his company’s espousal of fairness and the American way.

But the latest in a series of sexual harassment scandals suggests that Uber’s culture is resistant to change. Fowler, a former site reliability engineer for Uber, has stated in no uncertain terms that Uber did nothing to support her when she complained of being sexually harassed by her boss. Speaking of the harassment, Fowler wrote, “It was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.” She said her complaints were ignored and that she was told by HR that her harasser was a high-performing worker whose behavior shouldn’t merit more than a warning.

Kalanick, who just wrote a letter to employees that began, “It’s been a tough 24 hours,” also announced that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder along with one of his law practice partners, Tammy Albarran, are looking at the issues. However, also on the “independent” panel are Uber director Arianna Huffington, Uber General Counsel Angela Padilla and Uber Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey, leading some observers to question how independent the investigation could be.

The tech “bro-culture” seemingly embodied by Uber has come under fire for many a year. But while Uber is hardly alone in tech’s male-oriented culture, it’s a particularly big target — one that, with a stock offering coming at some point, can’t afford to look like a careless startup anymore.

Photo: Bit Boy