In the last five years, Uber has gone from a convenient ride-sharing startup to a zeitgeist-changing, multi-billion dollar corporation known for its Mr. Burns-like behavior. Headlines detailing Uber’s constant legal struggles are so common that articles about the company’s “staggering amount" of lawsuits and public scandals now seem dated. Between three class action lawsuits (and countersuits filed by Uber), numerous criminal and civil cases, and a wrongful death, it’s hard to keep up.
It almost seems like Uber wants the attention. Last month, over 200,000 people deleted the app after the company announced it would be turning off surge pricing to JFK during Trump’s immigration ban. Since then, we’ve seen several public apologies, the removal of CEO Travis Kalanick from Uber’s advisory board, and a litany of thirsty discount codes promising users the company will change their ways.
Now, just two weeks after Uber’s latest scandal was fading from memory, another one has threatened to sink the ride-sharing ship. Susan Fowler, a former engineer who left the company in December, published a blog post on February 19 detailing her time at the company. Fowler’s tale is an incredible look inside Uber’s weird (leather jacket-wearing) world that not only ignores sexual harassment, but seems to condone it from the top down.
From a bird's eye view, it may look like Uber is spinning out of control on all fronts. But over time, it’s become clear that the company’s despicable actions are common practice, and the majority of its worst controversies center around its relationship to women. There have been so many (blatant) incidents of sexual harassment, assault, rape, and general corporate fuckery since the company was founded less than a decade ago that it’s almost farce. While Fowler’s allegations and Uber’s subsequent employee investigation offer the public a clearer lens into Uber’s misogyny, here are eight past instances of anti-women action that should not get swept under the rug.
An Uber driver kidnapped a woman and Uber claimed “insufficient route.”
An LA woman tried to take an UberX home from a party in October 2014, and instead was taken on a 20-mile ride by the driver before being brought to an abandoned lot. According to Valleywag, “When she tried to exit the car, her driver locked the doors, trapping her inside. Only when she caused a commotion and screamed did he finally return her home.” In response to this ordeal, which took over two hours, Uber never issued a formal apology or condolences to the victim. They did, however, issue an email denouncing the ride as an “insufficient route” and later refunded her fare.
Several other assault allegations
There are too many to number, but here are some of the most awful criminal allegations by female Uber passengers in incidents against drivers. Note: these are just the ones that have been reported.
An Uber driver choked a woman in a racist attack and Uber blamed the media for it
In September 2013, writer and activist Bridget Todd took to Twitter to tell her story of an Uber driver who choked her because she was in an interracial relationship. CEO Travis Kalanick’s response: an email to Uber’s press team where he accused the media of presenting the company in a bad light. In the email, Kalanick reportedly wrote that “these incidents aren’t even real in the first place,” and instructed employees to “make sure these writers don’t come away thinking we are responsible even when these things go bad.”
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CEO Kalanick came off extremely slimy in a 2014 GQ profile. When asked about the Bridget Todd case, Kalanick repeated flatly that the incident "just didn't happen," and passed on the chance to walk back his remarks. Also memorable from the interview was Travis’ claim that he, as a now-powerful CEO, can get women on-demand.
“Not to make assumptions, but Kalanick probably wasn't the first kid in his class to lose his virginity," wrote GQ. "But the way he talks now—which is large—he's surely making up for lost time. When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: “Yeah, we call that Boob-er.”
Uber France’s “Hot Chick” promotion
In one of the more sexist advertisements in recent history, Uber France asked the question, “Who said women know how to drive?” In 2014, to promote the app’s use abroad, riders in Lyon could request an “Avion de chasse,” (French for “sexy girl”) to be paired with, and even be sent photos before agreeing to the ride.
Uber executive vows to “dig up dirt” on female journalist
Sarah Lacy, a writer for Pando, penned several articles decrying Uber’s sexist corporate culture in 2014. As a response, Emil Michael, a senior VP of business suggested that Uber should use its money to dig up dirt on journalists. Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith happened to be present, and reported on Michael’s comments. “Over dinner, [Michael] outlined the notion of spending 'a million dollars' to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they'd look into 'your personal lives, your families,' and give the media a taste of its own medicine," Smith wrote on Buzzfeed.
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Employees are apparently stalking their exes
In December 2016, Ward Spangenberg, a former forensic investigator, filed a suit against Uber for its use of “God View.” The suit alleges that Uber employees are privy to sensitive customer information and have used data to track “high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and ex-spouses."
Uber employees were groped in Vegas
Uber’s internal investigation following Fowler’s blog post about her time at the company has resulted in several detailed accounts of sexual harassment of female Uber employees. Many have stated that HR went out of its way to downplay high-ranking male employees’ behavior to protect their careers. The most significant story included a ruckus corporate retreat that included a performance by Beyoncé, bathroom cocaine, and the hijacking of a private shuttle bus. It was during this retreat that a manager groped the breasts of a female employee. According to The New York Times, who interviewed employees this week following Fowler’s post, several employees have reported they are looking for new work. Meanwhile, Uber has brought in Arianna Huffington and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to further look into harassment issues.