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A former Uber employee’s disturbing claims of workplace sexism reignite calls to #deleteUber

Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car.
Angelo Merendino | AFP | Getty Images
Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car.

On Sunday afternoon, Susan Fowler — now an engineer at payments company Stripe — published an essay alleging that Uber's human resources representatives ignored multiple reports of sexual harassment and sexism during her year-long stint at the company.

In response to her essay, calls to #deleteUber — a hashtag that gained steam when people thought the car-hailing service was trying to profit off the backs of taxi drivers protesting President Donald Trump's travel ban — have cropped up on Twitter again. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from a Trump advisory council in part due to the vehement response to the widespread complaints.

The #deleteUber movement hit the business hard, with Uber reporting over 200,000 account deletions, although other sources said the number was even higher.

Now this new controversy — especially since Uber has previously been criticized about its commitment to the safety of female customers, some obviously sexist ads and also several very questionable comments from its top execs related to women — has the potential to make those numbers rise even further.

So it's no surprise that Kalanick responded quickly to the Fowler essay on Twitter. "I have just read Susan Fowler's blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in," wrote Kalanick, who claimed it was the "first time this has come to my attention." "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."

He also said the company's recently hired head of human resources, Liane Hornsey, will be launching an "independent" investigation into Fowler's claims, along with independent board member Arianna Huffington.

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Hornsey, a former top-ranking Google HR exec, took over from the former head of HR Renee Atwood, who left after more than two and a half years on the job. Atwood had gone to Twitter last summer, but left there earlier this month.

Hornsey will have her hands full, it seems. Other former employees of the company have echoed some of Fowler's sentiments. Chris Messina, known as the inventor of the hashtag, left Uber after just a year leading its developer platform. Messina tweeted that he also had difficult experiences with human resources executives at Uber.

Several former employees also reiterated that the company's human resources department was poorly managed and the focus was largely on recruiting talent and firing people. Some said they also reported several workplace issues to the department representatives and received similar treatment as Fowler.

Fowler also wrote that her manager threatened to fire her if she ever reported his boss to HR again — which is called retaliation and is illegal according to equal employment laws. Fowler also wrote that she made the company's chief technology officer, Thuan Pham, aware that her manager was threatening retaliation — which he acknowledged was illegal.

However, nothing was done about it, Fowler wrote.

We've reached out to Uber to see how they might handle the illegal threats of retaliation, as well as the issues in the HR department, and will update when we hear back.