Recently the President of Business in Asia Pacific for Uber, Eric Alexander, was fired for carrying confidential documents – medical records of the survivor and police files of the 2014 rape case the company was involved in.
In 2014, a woman was raped by an Uber driver, who also had been sentenced to 7 months in jail for rape earlier, along with three other criminal cases against him, finally being given life imprisonment for this case. Due to this, Uber was banned in India till June 2015. The company also faced criticism for not being thorough in background checks on its drivers.
The tendency of cab companies to overlook the safety measures for their clients, especially women, has been a cause of concern. It is only after this case, for instance, that Uber improved its GPS technology, employee background checks and customer support. Moreover, the company CEO Travis Kanalick shifted the blame of lack of background checks partly on the Indian government.
Even provision of safe systems is not enough sometimes, because, though the ride-hailing company had given a public statement of condemning the act and in support of the victim, an article by Recode states that Alexander did not believe it to be so and investigated the event by obtaining the documents, though it is not clear whether it was an order from above or done of his own accord. He showed them to the company CEO Kalanick and Senior Vice President Emil Michael, along with other senior officials of the company.
The report states that all three men believed Ola, Uber’s biggest rival in India, had orchestrated this incident to tarnish the image and business of the company, which Kalanick also discussed with his friends and other employees. Thus, even after the criminal record of the man had been disclosed and the lack of background check on him, a cheap tactic by Ola seemed more plausible!
Ola reacted strongly to these accusations by releasing a statement:
“It is a shame that the privacy and morals of a woman have to be questioned in an attempt to trivialise a horrific crime. It is despicable that anyone can even conceive an attempt to malign competition using this as an opportunity. If this report were to be even remotely true, this is an all time low on morality and a reflection of the very character of an organisation.”
While Uber’s complete lack of concern for the survivor;s feelings clearly shows a lack of work ethics, it is also an illegal act. As an article in The Verge states that though the privacy laws in india are still “slowly evolving through various court judgments“, the Medical Council of India (that formulates these laws) states that if the possession of such sensitive documents has been taken without the written permission (and full knowledge of its use) of the survivor, it constitutes a violation of privacy. Moreover, sharing the documents with others without the permission of the person they are concerned with is also violation. Thereby, even if he obtained the documents legally, which is unlikely, Alexander certainly violated rules by showing them to Kalanick and others.
The incident came to light when, on June 6, 2017 and 20 employees were fired by Uber and many others were warned. This action was taken with respect to the investigations done by the law firms Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling, which itself was a response to the public outcry against the company after Sarah Fowler’s, an ex-employee, blog post. There were 215 claims in total, also including sexual harassment and unprofessional behaviour. Alexander, whose activities had also been recorded, was not among the 20 employees that were fired. It was only after the journalists started questioning his actions that he was fired the next day.
However, why was Alexander fired only after the journalists probed the company? Why did it take so long (the case occurred in 2014) for Alexander to be fired? Why was the fact that the testimony of a rape survivor was ignored and her privacy violated by an employee not enough to fire Alexander?
Many reasons are given including the close relationship of Kalanick, Michael and Alexander, Alexander’s opportunism ability to score deals for the company, highlighting the power politics of the company. However, none of them justify the unethical conduct of Alexander and the company to the woman, whose testimony was not only doubted but her experience was also shared freely among the people. Women often become victim to men in power. This also extends to Uber’s female employees, as can be seen in Sara Fowler’s example. Kalanick has also been criticized for his lack of propriety. Uber has also been accused of fraudulent practices.
A safe and equal environment for the women employees and clients is what the companies should aim for, however, sadly, sexual harassment, gender disparity and favouritism are commonplace.
Featured Image Credit: Uber executive Eric Alexander via Hindustan Times