Thursday, June 08, 2017

A top Uber executive, who obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim, has been fired

Sources say Eric Alexander carried around for a year confidential information about a woman who was assaulted during a ride in India in 2014.


A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said. 

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group. 

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber. 

As part of the Coie investigation, 20 employees were fired for a range of infractions, from sexual harassment to unprofessional behavior to retaliation. About 100 others are either still being investigated or saw some type of action — such as warnings or mandatory employee trainings. 

Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further. 

By way of background, in 2014, a 26-year-old woman in New Delhi, India was raped and assaulted by her Uber driver at the end of a Saturday night in December. The driver — who was already awaiting trial for at least four other criminal charges— was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison. 

It was a decision Uber India president Amit Jain applauded at the time. “Sexual assault is a terrible crime and we’re pleased he has now been brought to justice,” he said in a statement. “Safety is a priority for Uber and we’ve made many improvements — in terms of new technology, enhanced background checks and better 24/7 customer support — as a result of the lessons we learned from this awful case.”

But Uber came under Indian government scrutiny after the incident. Police in New Delhi considered whether to criminally charge the ride-hail company over its lax background checks and questioned the city’s general manager, Gagan Bhatia. Ultimately, Uber was banned from operating in Delhi shortly after the incident, a stricture which wasn’t lifted until June of 2015.

While the company was publicly apologetic, some top executives apparently had trouble believing that the incident was entirely true, sources said, including Alexander. He was already in India and investigated the claims — it’s not clear if he did this of his own volition or was directed to do so. It is also not clear if he obtained these files legally. 

Alexander then brought the files to Kalanick and Michael, who read them, said sources. This is highly unusual since they were records related to a criminal investigation.

Still, soon after, all three began to raise the prospect that Ola — Uber’s prime competitor in India — was behind the incident to sabotage the company, sources said.

Some Uber staffers who were told about the medical report by them were disturbed to hear the executives were considering the scenario, based on their reading of the medical report, that the woman’s story was not true. 

“Travis never should have looked at the report and he should have fired him immediately,” said one executive of Alexander. 

Neither Kalanick, Michael nor Alexander has medical training, even though they questioned the incident based on the medical report, the sources said.

Worse: Alexander carried around the document for about a year before other executives — presumably the legal department — obtained the report and destroyed his copy, according to the sources. It’s not clear if Uber continues to have a copy.

At the time, Kalanick’s public response to the rape seemed to shift some of the blame over the lack of sufficient background checks, which would have caught the drivers’ several infractions, onto the government. 

What happened over the weekend in New Delhi is horrific. Our entire team's hearts go out to the victim of this despicable crime. We will do everything, I repeat, everything to help bring this perpetrator to justice and to support the victim and her family in her recovery. 

We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs. We will also partner closely with the groups who are leading the way on women's safety here in New Delhi and around the country and invest in technology advances to help make New Delhi a safer city for women.

Still, many believed that the rape was a watershed moment for the ride-hailing company. Uber quickly rolled out new safety features in India and elsewhere in the aftermath of the incident. 

However, Uber’s decision to move the lion’s share of their customer support team — the company’s last line of defense against these types of incidents — to contract companies in places like Manila where there were high quotas and language barriers at times caused serious complaints and reports to fall through the cracks, as reported back in February 2016. In April of 2016, the company also agreed to pay up to $25 million to settle a lawsuit in California over the “false sense of security” the language around its background checks gave riders.