Former U.S. attorney general Holder to lead review of Uber sexual harassment claims

​Uber's chief executive orders an urgent investigation into a sexual harassment claim made by a female engineer who alleges her prospects at the company evaporated after she complained about advances from her boss.

Former employee describes rampant sexism at ride-hailing company

A former Uber engineer described rampant sexism at the ride-hailing company in a recent blog post, alleging her complaints were rebuffed by superiors. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

​Uber's chief executive ordered an urgent investigation Monday into a sexual harassment claim made by a female engineer who alleged her prospects at the company evaporated after she complained about advances from her boss.

Travis Kalanick responded on Twitter to an open statement by Susan Fowler Rigetti about her year at the ride-hailing app. In a blog post titled "Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber," Rigetti says the company's human resources department ignored her complaints because her boss was a high performer.

"What's described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in," Kalanick tweeted. "Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."

Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, who are partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, will look into the complaints about a manager at Uber, as well as general questions about diversity and inclusion, Kalanick told his employees in a memo Monday seen by Reuters.

Arianna Huffington, who joined Uber's board last year, Liane Hornsey, Uber's chief human resources officer, and Angela Padilla, the company's associate general counsel, will also help conduct the review, Kalanick said in the memo.

Huffington, Kalanick and Hornsey will meet on Tuesday, the memo said.

Eric Holder, who served as U.S. attorney general for over six years in the Obama administration, will lead a review that will look into the recent allegations as well as Uber's overall policies concerning diversity and respect in the workplace. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

In her blog, Rigetti said she joined Uber as a site reliability engineer in November 2015. On her first official day with the company, her boss propositioned her in a string of messages on the company chat. As it was "clearly out of line," she immediately took screen shots of the remarks.

"Upper management told me that he '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," she wrote.

Rigetti, who did not name the manager at issue, left the team. But she said as she tried to progress in the company, she found her way blocked. She alleged sexism was rampant in the company, and that when she pointed that out at a company meeting, she was rebuffed.

Free jackets — for the men

In a particularly comical moment, she noted that the director of engineering ordered leather jackets for the site's reliability engineers, but later decided it would only give the jackets to male engineers because there were too few women in the company to qualify for a bulk purchase discount.

"The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets," she wrote. "He 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."

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick called the alleged harassment 'abhorrent' and ordered a full investigation. (Shu Zhang/Reuters)

Kalanick said he has instructed the company's chief human resources officer to look into the blog post, adding "there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber."

The remarks will strike a nerve among those trying to bolster the number of women in science and engineering, who have long argued that male-dominated atmospheres are discouraging the talented from seeking careers in the sector.

Rigetti said she temporarily disabled comments on her blog post "because there were too many for me to keep up with."

Last year, Airbnb hired Holder, who served as attorney general under former president Barack Obama, to help craft a policy to combat discrimination occurring through the online lodging service's platform.

With files from Reuters