Uber Technologies Inc’s board was to discuss chief executive officer Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company’s management practices at a meeting yesterday, a person familiar with the situation said.
The source said it is not clear that the board would make any decision to change Kalanick’s role.
The board was expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm’s broader culture, but they made no recommendation about Kalanick.
The meeting, which Uber has not publicized, could be a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries, but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.
At the meeting, the seven voting members of Uber’s board, including Kalanick, were expected to vote on recommendations made by the law firm of former US attorney general Eric Holder, which conducted a review of the company’s policies and culture, two people familiar with the matter said.
The review was launched in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing what she described as sexual harassment and the lack of a suitable response by senior managers.
Fowler now works for digital payments company Stripe Inc.
Uber’s board is likely to tell employees and the public of its decisions by tomorrow, one of the sources said.
The report was prepared by Holder and Covington & Burling partner Tammy Albarran, and came shortly after another law firm, Perkins Coie, submitted a separate report on sexual harassment and other employee concerns at the company.
Uber on Tuesday responded to that report’s findings by saying it had fired 20 employees for a variety of reasons and was increasing training and adopting new policies.
The report considered 215 cases encompassing sexual harassment, discrimination, unprofessional behavior, bullying and other employee complaints, Uber said.
The San Francisco-based company is valued at nearly US$70 billion, but has yet to turn a profit.
Some of the recommendations in Holder’s firm’s report would force greater controls on spending, human resources and other areas where executives led by Kalanick have had a surprising amount of autonomy for a company with more than 12,000 employees, a person familiar with the matter said.
Uber’s more than 1.5 million drivers worldwide are classified as independent contractors rather than employees.
Less clear is the fate of Kalanick, who with close allies has voting control of the company.
The person briefed on the matter said the board was to discuss Kalanick taking time off from the company, including the possibility that he might return in a role with less authority, either in a position other than CEO or as CEO with narrower responsibilities and subject to stronger oversight.
Kalanick is also facing a personal trauma: His mother died last month in a boating accident, in which his father was also badly injured.
Employees and former employees interviewed by Holder’s team complained about sexual and racial bias, bullying and retaliation, people familiar with their accounts said.
Kalanick and his lieutenants had favorites who played by different rules than other employees, and that even those favorites were nervous that they could fall from grace, which they sometimes did, they said.
Uber declined comment on that characterization.
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