By Joseph Menn and Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] said on Tuesday it fired 20 employees and was improving management training following an investigation by a law firm into sexual harassment allegations and other claims at the ride-hailing company.
Uber fired the staff following a report by law firm Perkins Coie, which Uber hired to look into claims of harassment, discrimination, bullying and other employee concerns.
The law firm has been working in parallel with a broader investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into company culture and practices.
Perkins Coie investigated 215 staff complaints going back as far as 2012, Uber said, taking action in 58 cases and no action on 100 more. Other investigations are continuing.
Of the 215 claims, Uber said 54 were related to discrimination, 47 related to sexual harassment, 45 to unprofessional behaviour, 33 to bullying and 36 to other types of claims.
It said the majority of the claims came from employees based at Uber’s San Francisco headquarters.
The world’s highest-valued venture-backed company – worth $68 billion at its last funding round – also told staff on Tuesday it would expand its employee relations unit to better investigate claims and that it would dramatically increase management training since most Uber managers were first-time bosses, a person familiar with the matter said.
On Monday, Uber said it hired Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei to train all managers, reporting to Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick. On Tuesday, it said Bozoma Saint John, prominent in some Apple Inc <AAPL.O> product launches, joined the company as chief brand officer.
Uber also said it is offering a confidential helpline for employees to report concerns and has implemented a system to log and track all complaints.
YEAR OF QUESTIONS
Uber’s firing of employees comes after a series of events this year that have raised questions about Uber’s business model and leadership.
In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler said in a widely read blog post that managers and human resources officers had not punished her manager after she reported his unwanted sexual advances.
In addition, Uber was caught using technology to avoid regulator crackdowns, a video surfaced showing Kalanick berating an Uber driver, and the company is caught up in legal battles around the world over the way its ride-services business operates.
Uber is also facing a lawsuit from Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> self-driving car division, Waymo, alleging trade secret theft.
The company declined to comment further on the move to fire staff. Some saw it as a step in the right direction for Uber to repair its tarnished reputation.
“They are heading the right way, both with action and reaction,” said Jason Hanold, manager partner at human resources executive recruitment firm Hanold Associates. He added it was “not nearly a complete and final surgery to heal a troubled culture.”
The move follows a string of executive departures at Uber, including the company president, heads of finance and product, an East Coast general manager and several high-level engineers.
For the last three months, Uber has been seeking a chief operating officer to work alongside Kalanick, who has earned a reputation as a pugnacious leader. Uber board member Bill Gurley is overseeing the search.
Uber has also been under the microscope of Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, who were asked to conduct a broad review of sexual harassment at Uber as well as general questions about diversity and inclusion. Their report was completed at the end of May and has been shared with a subcommittee of the Uber board of directors, a company representative said.
In March, Uber board member Arianna Huffington pledged to make the findings of Holder’s investigation available to the public. Initially, the company had expected to make a public announcement this week, but that timing has been pushed back.
Uber is expected to discuss it with staff next week, a person familiar with the matter said.
(Additional reporting by Rishika Sadam in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Peter Henderson and Bill Rigby)