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Former Uber engineer sues company for sexual harassment, testing company's new policy on lawsuits

USA Today—Mike Snider

A former Uber software engineer has sued the ride-hailing company for sexual harassment, sexual and racial discrimination, and retaliation.

Ingrid Avendaño filed the suit Monday in California Superior Court, claiming that during the more than two years she worked at Uber, she "experienced a male-dominated work culture, permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory, and sexually harassing conduct towards women."

At one point, she says in the suit, a male coworker at a recruiting event in October 2014 said publicly that “Uber is the type of company where women can sleep their way to the top.” She later learned that same employee had spread a “false and offensive rumor” about her that “she had slept with someone at the company.”

After lodging two complaints about harassing behavior, Avendaño says she “was isolated and ignored by many male Uber managers and other employees.”

This suit comes a week after the company changed its forced arbitration policy to allow those bringing sexual assault, rape or sexual harassment suits against the company and its employees to have their case argued in court. Forced arbitration has become a major concern of the national Me Too movement because it silences women and protects companies with troubling workplace cultures, supporters say. 

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Avendaño said she was inappropriately touched during a company retreat by a male senior software engineer who made other inappropriate sexual advances. Inappropriate remarks were also made via the company's internal instant messenger system, she says in the suit.

In 2015, the harassment led to her to begin suffering panic attacks, Avendaño said. Subsequently, she checked herself into a hospital in January 2016 for exhaustion, burnout, depression and anxiety “caused in large part by the ongoing discriminatory conduct," she says in the suit.

In March 2016, Avendaño said she spoke to her manager in support of fellow software engineer Susan Fowler, who in February 2017 would publish a widely-read blog post about sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation she faced at Uber. In her suit, Avendaño said she told management and human resources that the company was mishandling Fowler's complaint and that it "created a hostile work environment."

In her suit, Avendaño also says she was denied promotions and comparable raises and, as a retaliatory move, was required to work long hours as an on-call engineer.

The situation worsened, Avendaño says, and she "felt threatened, intimidated, and retaliated against" for raising concerns about the workplace. She took a two-month leave of absence in April 2016 for "mental and physical symptoms of extreme anxiety," she said.

After an internal report looking into the workplace, Uber management minimized "the harassment and discrimination claims raised by Fowler, her and others," Avendaño says in the suit. Having concluded "Uber would continue to refuse to address unlawful conduct," Avendaño says in the suit, she resigned in June 28, 2017.

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