Uber Hires Law Firm to Probe Handling of India RapeBy
O’Melveny & Myers identified as leading internal investigation
Company executives accused by woman of violating her privacy
Uber Technologies Inc. hired law firm O’Melveny & Myers to investigate claims by a woman raped by a driver in India that company executives violated her medical privacy and defend the ride-hailing giant against a lawsuit she filed last week, said a person familiar with the matter.
Eric Alexander, Uber’s former president of business in Asia, obtained a copy of the woman’s medical report and carried it around with him, people previously told Bloomberg. Travis Kalanick -- who resigned as chief executive officer Tuesday night, but remains on the company’s board -- floated a conspiracy theory that the woman hadn’t been raped and that Uber had been framed by its Indian competitor Ola, people told Bloomberg.
The law firm’s probe, in part, will look at how the medical report was obtained and whether any bribes were paid, according to the person, who declined to be identified because the matter is private.
The rape victim, who’s a resident of Texas but remains anonymous, is suing Uber in San Francisco federal court over claims that Alexander and Emil Michael, who was the company’s senior vice president for business until last week, traveled to the Indian capital city following the driver’s assault and acquired her medical records without her consent.
She previously received at least $3 million from Uber in a separate 2015 settlement over claims the company’s background check procedures for hiring drivers in India were woefully inadequate, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.
Kalanick, Alexander and Michael are named in the new suit as defendants in both their personal and professional capacities. A representative for Alexander said there’s no truth to claims that he used bribery to obtain the report.
“These are absolutely baseless claims,” the representative said. “It never happened.”
The ride-hailing company declined to comment on the hiring of O’Melveny & Myers and a spokeswoman for the firm didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters earlier reported the hiring.
“While we hope that Uber’s outside counsel can figure out how it came into possession of our client’s confidential medical records, the unfortunate reality is that our client has had to relive a vicious sexual assault knowing that certain Uber executives rummaged through her medical records and contemplated a crazy conspiracy theory,” Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer for the victim, said in an email. “Regardless of what Uber’s outside counsel finds, we plan to hold Uber and the individually named defendants responsible for their deplorable actions.”
The woman said her driver raped her in December 2014 after she fell asleep in the back of the vehicle. The incident became a focal point for debate over safety for ride-hailing passengers and led to a brief shutdown of Uber’s service in New Delhi. The driver was convicted of the assault in 2015.
Controversy over the episode reignited this month when current and former employees told Bloomberg they had expressed serious concerns about how Alexander obtained and touted the report, which detailed the results of an invasive medical examination. Alexander, Kalanick and Michael discussed the possibility that Ola may have helped orchestrate an anti-Uber scandal, according to people with knowledge of the conversations, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
The mishandling of the rape case figured into an investigation into workplace harassment and culture by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and contributed to the ousters of both Alexander and Michael.
Uber issued a statement after the woman’s suit was filed.
“No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.”
The case is Doe v. Uber, 3:17-cv-03470, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
— With assistance by Joel Rosenblatt, and Kartikay Mehrotra