The engineer, Ingrid Avendaño, said she was hospitalized because of the stress of working at Uber.
A former Uber engineer is suing the company, claiming sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination based on her sex and race.
In her suit, Ingrid Avendaño — a Latina — details what she calls an “intolerable” work environment where she was subject to sexual harassment and paid less than her male and white counterparts, with little action from the company to remedy those issues.
Avendaño also claims she was overworked and had anxiety over what she believed was retaliation from her managers. All of this together, she claims in the suit, eventually led to her being hospitalized for three weeks and seeking outpatient treatment.
Avendaño’s suit echoes many of the complaints former Uber engineer Susan Fowler detailed in her account of her year at the company. In fact, Avendaño and Fowler worked in the same department within Uber’s engineering arm, with many of the same upper managers.
In the suit, Avendaño details her attempts at defending Fowler to higher-ups. Emails previously obtained by Recode show Avendaño escalating her concerns about the mismanagement of Fowler’s experience with harassment to the then-executive assistant of Uber CTO Thuan Pham.
“Multiple people are pissed off about this stuff being swept under the rug and not being taken more seriously that a new [lady engineer] was sexually harassed by a former manager,” read one email Avendaño sent to Thuan Pham’s former assistant. That person later responded that Pham was aware of the situation and would discuss it with human resources.
Like Fowler, Avendaño claims that she repeatedly reported managers for harassment and other inappropriate behavior to higher-ups including Pham, but saw little disciplinary action taken. Instead, she claims, those people retaliated against her, leading to a slower pace in promotions and salary increases compared to her male and/or white counterparts.
Under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber has been eager to move away from the narrative of the company culture that Avendaño’s suit illustrates. So the company’s response to this suit in court will be an important test.
“Uber is moving in a new direction,” an Uber spokesperson said. “Last week, we proactively announced changes to our arbitration policies. And in the past year we have implemented a new salary and equity structure based on the market, overhauled our performance review process, published Diversity and Inclusion reports, and created and delivered diversity and leadership trainings to thousands of employees globally.”
But that new arbitration agreement comes with limitations: Anyone with individual claims of sexual harassment or assault can pursue them in court. However, that doesn’t extend to employees and drivers who did not opt out of arbitration to handle claims not related to sexual harassment.
For example, the company has asked a judge to force women who allege they were sexually assaulted by drivers to arbitrate all the non-sexual-assault-related claims in the lawsuit. So it may be that Uber attempts to do the same thing with this suit.
The company declined to specify how it plans to respond to this complaint.
Fowler’s essay sparked a series of investigations that led to the termination of 20 staffers and an upheaval of many of the company’s values and practices — including compensation. But Avendaño claims that those who harassed or discriminated against her and those who “sanctioned” it by not disciplining them remained at the company when she was there.
This is not the first suit against Uber that Avendaño is involved in. She was formerly the lead plaintiff on a class-action suit alleging discriminatory practices at Uber, which the company eventually settled. She removed herself as lead plaintiff later on because her individual claims were more involved.
Avendaño’s original lawsuit claims that Uber had a “male-dominated work culture, permeated with degrading marginalizing, discriminatory, and sexually harassing conduct toward women. This culture was perpetuated and condoned by numbers managers, including high level company leaders.”
Here are some of the specifics from the suit:
- A co-worker who had previously made inappropriate remarks about Uber’s workplace — saying that it was the kind of place where women sleep their way to the top — spread a rumor that Avendaño had gotten her job because she slept with someone at the company. She claims she reported him and nothing happened.
- She was inappropriately touched by a male senior software engineer at a company retreat in Las Vegas. It was reported to the CTO of the company, Thuan Pham. Nothing happened, Avendaño claims.
- At least once, Avendaño said, she saw a YouTube video posted on an internal chatroom that featured a topless woman.
- Avendaño claims that one employee told a female coworker that she was “so hot [he] wanted to rape [her].” According to her suit, Pham and other senior engineers did not discipline him and instead helped him advance in his career.
- In January 2016, Avendaño complained to Pham that Uber’s culture was so “toxic” that several employees were suicidal. She says nothing was done.
- Avendaño said that Uber threatened to rescind its job offer to her and other women who tried to negotiate for better compensation when they realized that the offer was significantly less than what male or white coworkers were offered in the same period.
- Engineers were told not to talk about compensation because it was “unprofessional.”
- After Avendaño complained of sexist payment practices at Uber, she believes she was retaliated against and received a low performance rating and minimal salary increase. An HR representative called her salary “abnormally low.”
Here’s the full complaint:
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