The last year has not been kind to Uber. What started out as one of the shining examples of Silicon Valley startups is starting to face every kind of legal and public image headache imaginable.
Earlier this week, 20 Uber employees were fired as a result of a legal probe into accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination, followed by exec Eric Alexander for his handling of a 2014 rape case in India. The situation has now become more complicated, thanks to CEO Travis Kalanick.
According to a report from Recode, Kalanick sent an email in 2013 advising employees who would be attending a company celebration in Miami. The email, referred to as the "Miami letter" within Uber, was essentially a rulebook for the 400-plus employees who would be present at the party celebrating Uber's success. This included advice on having sex with co-workers present at the party.
The party was meant to celebrate Uber's 50th city worldwide and hitting a billion-dollar run rate in 2012.
"This is a celebration! We've all earned it," Kalanick stated in the email. It also included shots at Miami's transportation that preceded the competition between Uber and Miami's transportation.
The email contained several dos and don'ts for the party. This included not throwing kegs off buildings, drug use, and vomiting. When it came to sex, the rules were also quite specific.
"Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic 'YES! I will have sex with you' AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML," Kalanick wrote in the email. And this wouldn't be the only time the email would be sent out. Kalanick would resend it in 2014 when the company had reached 1,800 employees.
Fall From Grace
Before the email was sent, Kalanick was apparently advised by other execs who saw the email not to send it. The feeling was that Uber's growth as a public company meant a more professional tone than what was in the email.
This is just another example of the apparent culture in Uber that's resulted in many of its problems of late. As mentioned above, Uber was subject to a legal probe from firms Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling due to complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination within the company from both employees and users. This resulted in the firing of 20 employees and, according to TechCrunch, 57 are still being probed. And that's not mentioning the Waymo lawsuit that has been going on since February of this year.
It does beg the question of how much longer Uber lasts before a drastic shift happens internally, especially at the top. Most of the problems relating to the probes seem to lead back up to many execs within Uber. Many of the execs within Uber are inexperienced, in some cases coming straight out of college, and not having a grasp of proper work culture. In an effort to save some face, Prof. Frances Frei was recently hired to help train execs to avoid these kinds of issues. But has the damage already been done?