Uber has fired a senior executive who obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India, the latest example of misconduct unearthed at the ride-hailing giant.
Eric Alexander, Uber’s president of business in Asia, was terminated on Tuesday after reporters began asking questions about his actions, according to three people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about it.
Uber has spent the past three months confronting a series of explosive claims about misconduct in its offices around the world, including accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination. Next week, employees are expected to hear the results of an investigation into the company’s culture led by Eric H Holder Jr., the former attorney general who is now a partner at the law firm Covington and Burling.
Uber said at a staff meeting on Tuesday that it had fired 20 employees in recent months over issues raised in another investigation, while dozens of other employees remain on notice or in training programs meant to address problems that emerged in that inquiry.
Mr Alexander was not among those employees. As investigators pursued tips from rank-and-file Uber workers about problems at the company, top executives did not disclose that they knew Mr Alexander had obtained the records of the Indian woman, according to two of the people familiar with the matter. Both Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, and Emil Michael, the company’s senior vice president of business, had read and discussed the woman’s medical records with Mr Alexander at length, according to those people.
Mr Alexander, who was based in Hong Kong, is a longtime confidant of Mr. Michael’s; the two worked together as far back as 15 years ago at the start-up Tellme Networks. Mr. Alexander was also one of Mr. Kalanick’s most trusted lieutenants. The three men once attended a South Korean escort bar together, according to two of the people familiar with the medical-records matter. That trip prompted a complaint to Uber’s human resources department.
The actions that led to Mr Alexander’s termination began in late 2014, when it became public that a woman had accused an Uber driver of raping her after she dozed off on a ride to her home in the Delhi region.
Critics condemned Uber over its screening practices when it emerged that the driver had previously been detained for months on suspicion of rape in a different case. Uber responded to the episode by introducing increased safety measures in its vehicles, including a kind of panic button for passengers who felt unsafe. Uber eventually settled a lawsuit the woman filed against the company; the driver was convicted of rape.
The attack came at a fraught time for Uber. The company was banned in Delhi after the story broke, putting at risk Uber’s plan to dominate the market in India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people that the company hoped would fuel enormous growth. Uber had also just closed a $1.4bn round of financing, and was in the middle of talking to other companies about more financing.
Mr Alexander was convinced that the rape charges were part of a plan hatched by Ola, the leading ride-hailing company in India and one of Uber’s largest Asian competitors, according to two of the people familiar with the matter. He spent months in India as Uber established itself there, and conducted his own investigation. He shared his concerns with Mr Kalanick and Mr Michael, who were also fixated on the case, according to the two people.
Mr Kalanick and Mr Alexander had long telephone conversations about what they believed to be subterfuge on the woman’s part, trying to figure out how to rectify the situation, according to two people familiar with those talks. Mr. Alexander carried the woman’s records, which he believed were at odds with her account, with him. The ban imposed on the company in Delhi added to their suspicions.
Uber declined to comment on the firing of Mr Alexander, and he did not respond to a request for comment. Recode first reported news of his termination.
Current and former Uber employees were surprised to learn that Mr. Alexander was not one of the 20 employees that Uber said on Tuesday it had fired. He was let go only after reporters asked Uber about his actions, despite several high-level executives having knowledge of the matter, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.
For now, Uber employees are awaiting the results of Mr Holder’s investigation. The company is expected to address his findings at a meeting for all employees on Tuesday.
© 2017 The New York Times
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