Uber has settled the second US lawsuit filed by the victim of a widely covered 2014 rape that pit the company against Indian police, reports Reuters. The victim withdrew her first lawsuit, a class-action demanding $15 million, in 2015. She filed her second lawsuit after it emerged that Eric Alexander, a then-top Uber Asia-Pacific executive, flew down to India and got his hands on her confidential medical records.
A toxic culture
This marks a turbulent reversal of Uber’s culture, which was marked by the firing of Travis Kalanick, the company’s founding CEO. His firing came in the heels of increasing shareholder pressure on the company to fix the toxic culture it had fostered. This culture problem started getting attention after a blog post by a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler. Fowler detailed systematic gender discrimination and harassment by the company’s employees and executives.
Dara Khosrowshahi was hired away by Uber’s board from the travel website Expedia to replace Kalanick as CEO. Since his appointment as CEO, he has taken a more let’s-fix-this approach to dealing with regulators and law enforcement around the world. This is in contrast with what happened before Kalanick’s ousting, when Uber tried to make sure regulators couldn’t even get on an Uber. After the service was banned in London, for instance, Khosrowshahi wrote a letter apologising to the city’s residents and vowed to make things right.
Later, Khosrowshahi ordered that a security breach that had taken place under Kalanick be made public. The breach affected over 57 million riders and drivers. It was hushed up by top Uber management at that time, and the hackers were paid off to delete copies of the stolen data (it’s not clear if they deleted that data). The security officials who dealt with the breach resigned soon after.
Khosrowshahi faces the daunting task of reforming a work culture where a reliability team was said to have just around 3% women; one where its previous CEO privately accused its competitor Ola of fabricating the Delhi rape case against it. While Khosrowshahi’s course correction atones for its past mistakes — perhaps settling the rape victim’s lawsuit is part of moving on — it remains to be seen how much of its global growth and dominance can withstand these changes.
Uber also faces a potentially damaging lawsuit from Google’s Waymo self-driving car company. The suit alleges that an employee poached from the latter had stolen several files from Google before leaving. The company is now being investigated by the US’s Justice Department. Closer to home, both Uber and Ola face discontent from drivers, some of whom say they are facing financial ruin as the companies’ incentives for drivers reduce from what they used to be.