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Uber CEO orders 'urgent investigation' after allegation of harassment, gender bias at company

Uber's CEO said Sunday he was ordering an investigation after a former employee published an account alleging sexual harassment and gender bias during her time at the company.

The account, published online by author and engineer Susan Fowler, begins with her joining Uber in November 2015, and claims there were multiple instances of managers and human resource representatives acting poorly.

Fowler's allegations, which CNBC has not been able to confirm, included:

  • "On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with."
  • "It was clear that [my new manager] was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR."
  • "Upper management told me that [that manager] 'was a high performer' (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part."
  • Based on alleged discussions with other women in the company "it became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being 'his first offense,' and it certainly wasn't his last."
  • After allegedly promising to buy leather jackets for the whole team, a member of management allegedly said "that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order."
  • A director "said that because there were so many men in the org, they had gotten a significant discount on the men's jackets but not on the women's jackets, and it wouldn't be equal or fair, he argued, to give the women leather jackets that cost a little more than the men's jackets."
  • "(My manager) told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR. California is an at-will employment state, he said, which means we can fire you if you ever do this again. I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal."
  • "I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything."

CNBC could not immediately verify details of her story, but Uber CEO Travis Kalanick issued a comment on the matter:

"I have just read Susan Fowler's blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It's the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."

Uber board member Arianna Huffington tweeted that she promised a "full investigation" with HR head Liane Hornsey, who joined the company in January, and asked people to email her directly:

Fowler's blog quickly attracted attention online. Including, notably, comments from early Uber investor Chris Sacca, who called Fowler's account "awful."