NEWS

It's Not Surprising Uber Obtained A Delhi Rape Survivor's Medical Documents

The company has been long accused of a sexist work culture.

08/06/2017 11:10 AM IST | Updated 08/06/2017 12:18 PM IST
Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at the Indian Institute of Technology campus in Mumbai, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A top Uber executive secured a copy of the medical report of a woman raped by a driver employed with the company in Delhi in 2014 and shared it with many of his colleagues, including Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick.

This is only one of the several explosive revelations published by American technology platform Recode, citing multiple sources.

Eric Alexander, the official in question who was the head of business for the Asia-Pacific region, has been fired. His conduct came under scrutiny as two law firms, Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling, were going through 215 claims filed to Uber. At least 47 of these complaints involved sexual harassment.

The incident that led to Alexander's sacking involved a 27-year-old woman, who had hired a cab in Gurgaon after a night out with friends, in December 2014. After getting into the car, the woman fell asleep and only woke up to find the vehicle parked in a secluded spot. Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav proceeded to rape her there and threatened to kill her if she spoke about the incident to anyone.

At the time of the incident, Uber issued a statement promising to work with the police and taking stringent actions against the driver involved. The company also pledged to take the background checks of its drivers more seriously.

Yadav, who was already awaiting trials for four criminal charges, was sentenced to life imprisonment in a fast-track trial by a sessions court in November 2015. Uber's license to operate in Delhi was suspended till June 2015.

READ: Uber's Sexist Culture Won't Change Until Its Bro-In-Chief Departs

In light of the information we now have, it is clear that Uber had trouble believing the authenticity of the woman's complaint. Although it's not clear if Alexander got access to her medical reports through legal channels, which is possible in India, it's evident that he, along with other senior executives, suspected foul play by their Indian rival Ola in the incident.

Alexander carried the report with him for nearly a year and it was shown to, or discussed with, numerous employees of the company, Recode claims. At least 20 other employees have now been fired as part of the probe being carried out by the law firms and 100 others are still pending investigations or awaiting action.

Uber's reputation for having a sexist image is not a recent phenomenon. The trouble, many believe, starts at the top, with its CEO Kalanick. Known for his publicly misogynist comments, macho and aggressive style of management,and for coming down hard on his employees, he cuts a controversial figure in the American entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As most start-ups, Uber's focus has so far been on hiring quickly and driving employees to work really hard. Consequently, its human resources team hasn't been able to address employees' grievances, gender pay gap and other workplace problems effectively. Former engineer Susan Fowler's allegations of sexual harassment exposed the rot in the company for the first time. Since then several executives have left it.

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