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Uber’s board considers removing CEO Travis Kalanick per harassment probe recommendations

The board is also considering removing SVP Emil Michael, who has also been entangled in Uber’s abusive work culture problem.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick CREDIT: AP
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick CREDIT: AP

After firing more than 20 employees last week, Uber’s board is considering temporarily removing its top two executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick and his right-hand Emil Michael, the New York Times reported Sunday.

Removing the executives is part of the recommendations made in a report by former attorney general Eric Holder, who was hired along with two law firms, including his own, Covington & Burlington in Los Angeles and Perkins Coie, to investigate reports of Uber’s allegedly abusive work culture.

The nine-member board of directors met for seven hours Sunday and voted unanimously to adopt all recommendations.

Kalanick has been at the center of Uber’s roiling harassment scandal with reports from former employees alleging the company’s culture and tone was set from the top. Earlier this year, former engineer Susan Fowler wrote a searing blog post exposing her experiences with sexism and harassment while working at Uber, including a trip to an escort bar in South Korea and human resources refusing to investigate her harassment claims, all of which prompted Uber’s investigation in February.

Kalanick has been there defending the company he built, as the Times reported “in his own brash image,” at every controversial turn — from evading law enforcement, to potentially violating consumers’ privacy, to being slow to address sexual harassment and assaults of female passengers, to running sexist ads. Kalanick also sent a seemingly inappropriate email to employees that outlined dos and don’ts during a company trip to Miami in which he urged employees to get consent before having sex with a coworker but also alluding to his desire to have sex with staff but couldn’t because of decorum and his role as CEO.

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And Michael, Uber’s senior vice president of business, has been there, too. The executive told Buzzfeed in November that Uber was considering digging into reporters’ personal lives and families to stem negative coverage of the company. Following a takedown of the company’s sexist culture by Sarah Lacey in PandoDaily, Michael said Lacey should be “personally responsible” for any woman who deletes the Uber app and is sexually assaulted.

Kalanick publicly condemned Michael’s comments at the time, but that was the extent of the consequences he faced. Michael refused to step down and Kalanick (and the board) allowed him to stay on.

Michael announced his resignation from Uber Monday, naming David Richter as his replacement. He blames his being ousted on “a weak board of directors, a lax internal legal team, coupled with his tight friendship with co-founder Kalanick,” Bloomberg reported.

While it’s possible that Kalanick may be placed on a leave of absence, it might not change things that much. Michael, the Times reported, hasn’t been asked to step down but is considering his options. Kalanick and allies on the board hold the majority of Uber’s shares, which means his job will likely stay safe even if he takes time off. Uber’s board is structured to be “founder-friendly,” which gives seven members of the would be 13-member board super-voting shares and makes their input stronger. Four board seats are empty.

The company has also appointed an independent board director, Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice president at Nestlé. Martello is also a board member for Alibaba.

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This post has been updated to reflect Uber SVP Emil Michael’s resignation from his post and the appointment of Nestlé’s Wan Ling Martello as an independent director.