Uber moves to repair tainted image with 20 firings, 1 hiring

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Uber's fast-track rise is coming at a price as the ride-hailing company fired 20 employees Tuesday and hired 2 female business experts to join the executive team in an effort to repair its tarnished image after internal accusations of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and other complaints from employees.

The 20 people fired Tuesday were Uber employees who worked in the company offices, not the drivers. The company says while there were complaints from offices worldwide, the majority came from employees in San Francisco.

The two new women hired are Apple Music Chief Bozoma Saint John who will become chief brand manager for Uber and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei, who will become senior vice president of leadership strategy.

The hiring and firing come after Uber received 215 complaints from its own employees. An Uber spokesperson confirmed that 54 complaints were about discrimination, 47 about sexual harassment, 45 about unprofessional behavior, 33 about bullying. And the rest included complaints of other harassment, retaliation, physical security and wrongful termination.

"It says to me this is a systematic problem, This is not a bad apple story," said Jennifer Chatman, a UC Haas School of Business professor

Chatman, a professor at UC Berkeley's Haas school of business says Uber built its business by being an aggressive, disruptive company that frequently pushed the limits of rules and regulations, led by the bold and sometimes abrasive founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

"Being disruptive means breaking the rules and breaking the rules may have extended beyond the business platform of Uber to social conventions and social norms around civility and professionalism within the organization," said Chatman.

Uber received the 215 complaints on an employee tip line created after a former female engineer at Uber, Susan Fowler said she was the victim of sexual harassment by a manager and gender bias.

Fowler, whose claims are still being investigated, blasted Uber after Tuesday's firings.

"Remember that this is not about diversity and inclusion, it's about laws being broken. Harassment, discrimination, retaliation are illegal," Fowler posted on Twitter.

Santa Clara University business school professor Jo Ellen Pozner says it isn't so much what Uber did Tuesday, but what it does in the long term that will matter.

"You don't have an organization turning itself around because they fired 20 folks who got in trouble. You find an organization turning around because it really takes steps to enact change and that's a long-term process." said Professor Pozner.

Uber says it will continue the confidential help line, has a new system to log and track all complaints, doubled the employee relations team worldwide. and updated the employee handbook.

Chatman says future hiring will be a good indicator of progress.

"You look to who they're hiring, you look at how they're socializing and developing people, you look at how people are being rewarded and you look at leadership issues," Chatman says.

Uber has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a separate investigation. The results of that internal inquiry are expected next week.

The company told KTVU FOX 2 News that it plans to take steps to stem the inappropriate behavior, by:

  • Beefing up its Human Resources Department.
  • Creating a hotline for employees to report incidents in confidence.
  • Installing a new employee complaint system to track reports.

KTVU reporter Paul Chambers contributed to this report.