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Uber opens investigation after former engineer alleges sexual harassment cover-up

Uber has endured a rough PR start to 2017, and recent allegations of sexual harassment have not helped.
Uber has endured a rough PR start to 2017, and recent allegations of sexual harassment have not helped. AP

A bad year just got worse for Uber.

Already reeling from a wave of bad press and calls for a boycott because of its CEO’s ties to President Donald Trump, the ride-sharing company is now undergoing an “urgent investigation” into the claims of a former female employee who says she was sexually harassed by her superior, who was never properly punished.

Susan J. Fowler, an engineer who says she worked for Uber for one year starting in November 2015, made the explosive allegations in a lengthy blog post Sunday that quickly garnered attention on social media. On Twitter, Fowler’s link to the post has been retweeted nearly 10,000 times and liked 11,000 times as of Sunday night.

In the blog post, Fowler alleges that within her first few weeks on the job, her male superior began messaging her over the company’s internal chat system. In those messages, the surperior told Fowler he was in an open relationship and was looking for women to have sex with.

“It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him,” to Uber’s human resources department, Fowler wrote.

Fowler went on to say that a human resources representative told her it was the first time anyone had complained about her supervisor, and as such he would merely be given a warning. Fowler said the HR representative told her she would either have to leave the team she was currently working with or continue to work for the man who harassed her.

Fowler said she switched teams, but over the next few months learned from other female engineers that the supervisor had made similar comments to them and they had all been met with the same response from the HR department. Even after directly confronting HR representatives, Fowler said they continued to insist the man had only ever had one complaint filed against him.

Later in her post, Fowler said that her career stalled as superiors gave her negative performance reviews without pointing to any particular issue with her work. She also said that when she started with the company, 25 percent of its engineers were women, but by the time she left, that number was down to three percent.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted about Fowler’s allegations Sunday night and promised that “anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”

Fowler’s post also drew the attention of Uber board member Arianna Huffington.

Uber has been accused of sexism before, and Kalanick once referred to the app’s reputation for enabling hook-ups by calling it “Boob-er” in a GQ profile. BuzzFeed has also claimed that the company has significantly under-reported the number of sexual assaults that take place in their drivers’ cars.