Earlier this week, at a staff meeting in San Francisco, Uber executives revealed to the company’s 12,000 employees that 20 of their colleagues had been fired and that 57 are still being probed over harassment, discrimination and inappropriate behavior, following a string of accusations that Uber had created a toxic workplace and allowed complaints to go unaddressed for years.
Those complaints had pushed Uber into crisis mode earlier this year. But the calamity may be just beginning.
Indeed, if Uber executives were hesitant to part ways with particular employees for fear of recrimination, it’s suddenly easy to see why. Since announcing those firings on Monday, which reportedly included senior executives, Uber — which has long operated like an impenetrable fortress — has begun springing leaks right and left.
The question is whether the stories coming to light now are the most damning of the bunch, or leakers are starting in reverse and building toward a kind of crescendo that could finally lead to the ousting of CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick.
Certainly, he’s having an especially challenging week.
Yesterday, Uber fired senior executive Eric Alexander after it was leaked to Recode that Alexander had obtained the medical records of an Uber passenger in India who was raped in 2014 by her driver.
Recode also reported that Alexander had shared the woman’s file with Kalanick and his senior vice president, Emil Michael, and that the three men suspected the woman of working with Uber’s regional competitor in India, Ola, to hamper its chances of success there.
Uber eventually settled a lawsuit brought by the woman against the company. But that Alexander wasn’t among those employees fired earlier in the week — Uber terminated him only after Recode published its story — only created more questions about Kalanick’s judgment, as well as served to undermine the company’s broader harassment probe.
Yet that development has already been pushed aside by another. A couple of hours ago, Recode was leaked a 2013 email written by Kalanick that appears to showcase even worse judgment on his part.
Originally crafted by Kalanick when Uber had just 400 employees, the email is an obvious attempt by Kalanick to bond with employees who were preparing to celebrate an important milestone for the company — entering into its 50th city, Miami. Yet the language he uses is enough to make the most libertine lawyer light-headed.
Among the “don’ts” that Kalanick outlines in his company-wide missive about a party about to take place: “Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.” Also, “Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML.”
His fifth point: “Drugs and narcotics will not be tolerated unless you have the appropriate medicinal licensing.”
Likely, putting a spin on the concerns of Uber’s attorneys seemed funny to Kalanick and some of Uber’s employees at the time. Now, some of those once-loyal employees — exiled from the company — seem determined to have the last laugh.
Kalanick and his closest advisors must be wondering what other ammunition they have toward that end. Then again, they might know exactly what’s coming.