Eric Alexander, who was fired nearly a year ago, in part for his role in obtaining the medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, has threatened to sue Uber for disparagement and wrongful termination, among other issues, according to sources.
Sources said that Alexander has sent a demand letter last week to the car-hailing company outlining his claims and naming several current or former Uber executives — all women — as targeting him inside the company and in media reports.
Those named in the letter, which include a draft of a possible lawsuit, include former Uber comms head Rachel Whetstone, current head Jill Hazelbaker, current HR head Lianne Hornsey, former legal head Salle Yoo and Asia-Pacific comms head Amy Kunrojpanya. Both Whetstone, who is now a top Facebook comms exec, and Kunrojpanya are also named as defendants with Uber in the draft complaint.
Yes, people of Silicon Valley, Alexander is actually blaming a group of women for his downfall in the the complaint, which paints a picture of plotting by them that is counter to extensive reporting on his actions by Recode and also by Bloomberg. You can read the entire Recode post about Alexander’s actions here, which does not support his many and varied allegations.
That includes complaints in the Alexander complaint about everything from a memo sent by Hornsey to Uber staff about the “sickening” actions in India — which seems dead accurate to me — to unsupported allegations that Yoo ordered him to impede the rape investigation to Whetstone and Hazelbaker saying he stole the files.
Most striking, he never mentions the deep involvement of other executives in this incident, most especially ousted CEO Travis Kalanick.
Sources close to Uber said the company is confident of the facts, and that his claims are baseless. It plans to defends against any lawsuit is filed by him.
An Uber spokesman declined to comment and Alexander did not return an email seeking comment.
Alexander, who had been the president of business in the Asia Pacific for Uber, had shown the medical records to numerous executives, including Kalanick, said numerous sources.
His handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — which conducted deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber.
As part of the Coie investigation, 20 employees were fired for a range of infractions, from sexual harassment to unprofessional behavior to retaliation. About 100 others were investigated or saw some type of action — such as warnings or mandatory employee trainings.
Alexander had not been among those initially fired; but after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he was no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further at the time.
By way of background, in 2014, a 26-year-old woman in New Delhi, India, was raped and assaulted by her Uber driver at the end of a Saturday night in December. The driver — who was already awaiting trial for at least four other criminal charges — was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison.
It was a decision that Uber India president Amit Jain applauded at the time. “Sexual assault is a terrible crime and we’re pleased he has now been brought to justice,” he said in a statement. “Safety is a priority for Uber and we’ve made many improvements — in terms of new technology, enhanced background checks and better 24/7 customer support — as a result of the lessons we learned from this awful case.”
But Uber came under Indian government scrutiny after the incident. Police in New Delhi considered whether to criminally charge the ride-hail company over its lax background checks, and questioned the city’s general manager, Gagan Bhatia. Ultimately, Uber was banned from operating in Delhi shortly after the incident, a stricture which wasn’t lifted until June of 2015.
While the company was publicly apologetic, some top executives apparently had trouble believing that the incident was entirely true, sources said, especially Alexander. He was already in India and investigated the claims — it’s not clear if he did this of his own volition or was directed to do so. It is also not clear if he obtained these files legally, but sources close to him at the time said he got them from the Indian law firm representing Uber at the time.
Alexander then brought the files to the attention of Kalanick and other execs at Uber, as well as business head Emil Michael and Yoo. This was highly unusual, since they were records related to a criminal investigation. Still, soon after, the prospect was raised by Kalanick that Ola — Uber’s prime competitor in India — was behind the incident to sabotage the company, several sources said.
Some Uber staffers who were told about the medical report were disturbed to hear Alexander’s scenario, based on reading of the medical report, that the woman’s story was not true. To be clear, none of the execs has medical training, even though they raised questions about the incident based on the medical report.
Worse: Alexander carried around the document for months before other executives obtained the report and destroyed his copy, according to the sources. It’s still not clear if Uber continues to have a copy.
Still, many believed that the rape was a watershed moment for Uber, which eventually led to Kalanick’s ouster and replacement by current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Uber quickly rolled out new safety features in India and elsewhere in the aftermath of the incident. And this week, it dropped forced arbitration for sexual harassment and also instituted a range of data transparency intiatives around the issue.
That is a good thing, given the circumstances Recode reported around how Uber handled the rape files.
As we noted at the time:
If you ask most competent executives what they would do if an employee brought them a potentially controversial file that was part of a criminal investigation, the answer is always the same.
Which is: You do not read it or even touch it. You order that it be given to the company’s lawyer immediately. You quiz the employee as to the provenance and consider firing that person if you suspect it was illegally obtained.
So why did it take so long for his bosses at Uber to find out why and how a top executive named Eric Alexander, the now former president of business in the Asia Pacific, managed to acquire the confidential medical records, along with a police file, concerning the case of a woman who was violently raped in India in 2014.