Innovative, highly-lucrative and controversy-riddled ride sharing tech company, Uber, has appeared in headlines this year for their predatory and misogynistic business practices that led one female engineer to author a comprehensive blog post about her experience, which ultimately led to the resigning of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick in June of 2017.
“When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another [engineering] organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%,” wrote Susan J. Fowler in February of 2017, following her departure from Uber. “There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.”
Among Fowler’s jaw-dropping account of Uber’s organizational sexism, which is well worth a read, was multiple instances of sexual harassment faced by herself and her female coworkers, which were followed up by ineffective human resources meetings where it was clear that cutting down on sexual harassment was not the goal of the company, but rather performance and appearance were much more important.
Larger implications of this situation
At one point in her ordeal, Fowler was told by a manager that she was on thin ice (meaning she was close to being fired), because she had reported a higher-up to HR. Since California is an at-will employment state, he threatened that she could be fired if she ever did such a thing again.
Fowler had already been previously told by an HR rep that, were she punished for such actions, “it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been ‘given an option’” to leave her group, or Uber entirely.
Even throughout all this, and the investigation launched with the help of then-Attorney General Eric Holder which led to the eventual resigning of Kalanick, Fowler never joined with her fellow female employees to file a class action suit against the company.
Why was this? Simply, because joining Uber as an employee included agreeing to a contractual clause that they would not be allowed to organize for such an action.
The legality of such a clause is now the subject matter of three cases scheduled to appear and present arguments before the United States Supreme Court this October. The potential weight of those rulings could have major consequences for companies that utilize similar contract language to Uber, which attempt to prevent employees from organizing class action suits after being wronged and, instead, insist that the employees hash out agreements to mitigate their concerns in closed-door, one-on-one meetings. Continue reading