Between sexual harassment accusations, a culture of impunity and claims of industrial espionage, Uber faces an existential crisis
To say 2017 has been rough for Uber would be an understatement, but the revelation that SVP Engineering Amit Singhal did not disclose a sexual harassment claim against him from his time at Google has the company on the wrong side of a headline again. Singhal resigned Monday according to reports, in what seems to be the first domino to fall since a stinging recounting of sexual harassment against an ex-employee went viral last week.
Recode reports Singhal not only failed to tell Uber executives about the allegation, but the accusation was the reason he left Google in the first place. Google’s internal investigation found the claim “credible.” The report claims Kalanick came to ask for Singhal’s resignation following a press inquiry about the issue.
Singhal denied everything back when he was at Google and continues to do so today.
“Harassment is unacceptable in any setting. I certainly want everyone to know that I do not condone and have not committed such behavior,” Singhal communicated to Recode. “In my 20-year career, I’ve never been accused of anything like this before and the decision to leave Google was my own.”
Uber has remained bruised following a damning blog post by ex-employee and site reliability engineer Susan Fowler which alleged persistent harassment in Uber offices toward female employees, and an even more concerted effort by the company’s human resources department to cover it up. Uber even hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an internal investigation into sexual harassment throughout the company. That move also elicited frustration from some of the company’s own investors as Holder’s previous relationships with the company imply his work would not constitute an independent investigation into harassment claims.
It seems that Uber is making a very public effort to sanitize its brand from the story. Swiftly bringing in a prominent hired gun makes headlines, as does pushing a major tour de force in the engineering world like Singhal out of the company as quickly as possible. Assuming Kalanick and co. are not content to assume media will lose interest in the story, expect the company to look to let more people go (and to make those firings public to some extent).
But a lawsuit by Google subsidiary Waymo announced last week will turn heads that weren’t already paying attention to the harassment story. That suit alleges that Otto Founder Anthony Levandowski not only stole Google’s LiDAR designs for self-driving cars but met with Uber executives two weeks prior to even forming his company and only a month before he resigned from Google.
Should those charges win their day in court, the future of the rideshare giant may legitimately be untenable. Uber’s taxi business is notoriously unprofitable and the company’s self-driving car efforts are part of a strategic business pivot on which the titan startup’s future depends.
Beyond Uber, the story will only deepen tension in Silicon Valley. The news that Google faced its own problem with a prominent executive will likely keep the topic of sexual harassment in tech in the public eye over the next few weeks.