Former Uber Engineer’s Lawsuit Claims Sexual Harassment

The New York Times—Daisuke Wakabayashi
May 21, 2018

A former engineer at Uber sued the company on Monday, claiming that co-workers sexually harassed her during her time at the ride-hailing service and that its human resources department failed to act on her complaints.

In the lawsuit, Ingrid Avendaño, who joined Uber in 2014 and left last year, also said that despite receiving praise for her work, she was denied promotions or pay increases in retaliation for reporting misconduct at the company.

Ms. Avendaño said many of her complaints went ignored. In one incident, she said, she told the human resources department about a male software engineer who repeatedly said at a recruiting event that Uber was the “type of company where women can sleep their way to the top.”

She said that human resources did not investigate her claim and that, a few months later, the same male engineer told other groups of people in the company that Ms. Avendaño had gotten a job at Uber only because she had slept with someone. The engineer was eventually fired, according to the lawsuit.

Another male senior software engineer touched her upper thigh on a retreat while intoxicated and then made repeated sexual advances toward her, telling her that she was “so cute” and that he wanted to “take her home,” the suit says. On another occasion, it says, male co-workers commented on her physical appearance, including the size of her rear end.

“Each time Avendaño raised concerns regarding unlawful conduct, she was met with Uber’s entrenched disregard for the rights of its women employees and a refusal to take effective steps to prevent harassment,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco.

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Ms. Avendaño’s claims of sexual harassment and a human resources department uninterested or unwilling to curb the problem is reminiscent of issues raised by Susan Fowler, another former Uber engineer, who brought intense scrutiny to the company when she published a blog post about her time at Uber.

Ms. Fowler said that when she reported her direct supervisor for sexually harassing her, management told her that it wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him because he was a high performer and that it was probably an innocent mistake. After her post, the company hired Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, and his law firm, Covington & Burling, to investigate the claims and assess its workplace. Uber fired 20 employees for sexual harassment and misconduct based on the report’s findings.

Ms. Avendaño said that when she learned from co-workers that the company had decided not to punish the man who sexually harassed Ms. Fowler, she informed her bosses and human resources that they had mishandled the situation and were creating a hostile workplace. She even reported her point of view to Thuan Pham, Uber’s chief technology officer, she said.

She said she was reprimanded for throwing senior officials “under the bus.” She said her bosses retaliated by denying her pay increases and career advancement, prompting human resources to tell her shortly before she left the company in June that her salary was “abnormally low.”

As a result of the stress she felt at work, Ms. Avendaño said, she was hospitalized for extreme anxiety and took medical leave. When she returned to work, she received a low performance rating for not meeting Uber’s standard to “make magic.”