Uber fired a top engineer for covering up allegations of sexual harassment

A no-good very-bad week.
A no-good very-bad week.
Image: Reuters/Shu Zhang
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Another day, another black mark on Uber. Recode reports that Uber this morning asked Amit Singhal, the senior vice president of engineering it hired in January, to step down after learning he failed to disclose a “credible” sexual harassment allegation from his time at Google. Uber confirmed the report to Quartz.

The allegations against Singhal have surfaced at a bad time for Uber, which is struggling against a torrent of bad press after a former engineer wrote on Feb. 19 that she had been harassed by a manager and mistreated by human resources during her one year at the company. Susan Fowler is far from the first female engineer to have suffered sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, but her account has struck a chord in the tech industry and with Uber’s customers, many of whom have re-issued calls to delete the app.

Singhal left Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, in February 2016. At the time, his departure seemed like a personal choice. Singhal posted a farewell letter on Google Plus; he and the company appeared to part amicably. But per Recode’s Kara Swisher, the circumstances surrounding Singhal’s departure were more complex:

According to multiple sources and internal notes read to me, after discussing the claims of an alleged encounter between Singhal and a female employee first with former Google HR head Laszlo Bock and also Google CEO Sundar Pichai in late 2015, he denied those claims at the time. He also apparently stated a number of times that there were two sides to every story.

But, after the Christmas holidays, he then decided to resign himself after a 15-year career there.

Sources said that Google was prepared to fire Singhal over the allegations after looking into the incident, but that it did not have to do so after he resigned.

Uber declined to comment on Singhal’s departure. Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Harassment is unacceptable in any setting,” Singhal said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. “I certainly want everyone to know that I do not condone and have not committed such behavior. In my 20-year career, I’ve never been accused of anything like this before and the decision to leave Google was my own.”

Since Fowler published her account a little over a week ago, Uber has moved swiftly to signal it takes the matter seriously. The company said last week that it had hired former US attorney general Eric Holder to investigate its handling of sexual harassment allegations. At an all-hands meeting on Feb. 21, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was described as “emotional and visibly upset” as he apologized for insufficient diversity in the company’s workforce.

Two days later, in a discussion with more than 100 female engineers, one woman rejected the idea that Uber needs a green light from Holder to acknowledge a ”systemic problem” in how it treats women. “As esteemed as Eric Holder is—we need this investigation, and it’s great that we have his help—but I do not think that we need his help in admitting to ourselves as a company and a family that we have a systemic problem,” the woman can be heard saying in a tape obtained by BuzzFeed. “Fair enough,” Kalanick responded. “Fair enough.”