Uber's Latest Misstep Involves An Escort Bar & Resulting HR Complaint

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.
Female Uber employees have spoken out about sexual harassment in the workplace, and now CEO Travis Kalanick’s ex-girlfriend, violinist Gabi Holzwarth, is bringing a new incident to light. Holzwarth told The Information that she, Kalanick, and other Uber employees went to a karaoke bar in Seoul offering escort services in 2014.
According to The Information, male employees selected women by number to come sit with them. A year later, one of the female employees who was present reported the trip to human resources, saying she felt uncomfortable.
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All of this occurred three years ago, but the presence of other unflattering Uber news in the headlines reportedly prompted Kalanick to reach out to Holzwarth about the incident. He says that he merely wanted to let her know she might be contacted. She says that he told her to downplay the incident, which, if true, looks far worse for Uber.
Just over a month ago, former Uber employee Susan Fowler wrote about the harassment she experienced while working at Uber. Since then, others have come forward with similar stories. Immediately after the initial claims were made, Uber announced plans to undertake an official investigation and Ariana Huffington, an Uber board member, said she would take part in an investigation with Liane Hornsey, Uber's chief HR officer.
In last week's Uber press call, Huffington spoke about why the investigation matters to her, saying, "I have two daughters who are young adults, just starting out in their careers. I want to make sure that the company that we build at Uber reflects the best of anything in the workplace. So that no woman ever has to choose between advancing her career and completely unacceptable treatment."
According to Hornsey, some of the changes being put in place include updated job descriptions to ensure freedom from unconscious bias and educational training on diversity and inclusion. Hornsey implied that Uber's workplace suffered from a lack of team spirit. "Uber is disruptive — and disruption demands the confidence to be bold," she said. "What I have seen though, is that this has translated internally to what I would call a cult of the individual."
Hornsby goes on to say that "Change starts with action." Whether the actions that are being made are ones that will reform the larger harassment issues at play remains to be seen.
We'll continue to update this piece with news about the investigation.
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