As if the cataclysmic PR meltdown currently gripping Uber couldn’t get any worse, news that broke Friday evening is putting the company’s embattled CEO in the limelight again for all the wrong reasons.
A report in The Information describes an Uber company outing to an escort bar in Seoul, Korea in 2014, orchestrated by company chief Travis Kalanick and attended by his then girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth and five other employees. The soiree had all the trappings of a misogynistic bro-down, with female escorts wearing numbered tags so men could identify their favorites. Unsurprisingly, the evening led to an HR complaint, filed by a female employee in attendance that evening. According to the report, the female employee left the karaoke bar “visibly upset,” but didn’t actually complain about the alleged incident for a year. She spoke with Kalanick about the event, and had conversations with Holzwarth over an instant messaging service describing her discomfort.
The details of the evening -- which Uber executives hoped to sweep under the rug -- surfaced as part of an investigation into the company’s alleged workplace culture of sexism. The probe, led by former attorney general Eric Holder, was ordered after a female ex-employee published a blogpost describing Uber’s mistreatment of women. Since then, executives have resigned from high, strategic posts due to more allegations of sexism and the constant deluge of bad PR. The company has also been sued by Google for allegedly stealing technology. The downward spiral has been made notably worse by Uber’s use of spying technology to evade law enforcement in cities where the company is banned from operating. Yes, Uber sucks, and has sucked for a while.