Uber Faces Engineers' Lawsuit Alleging Gender, Race Bias

Updated on
  • ‘Forced’ ranking of employees cited as fueling discrimination
  • Tech industry is awash in challenges to white-male dominance

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Uber Technologies Inc. was sued by three Latina engineers who claim the company pays women and people of color less than their peers and doesn’t promote them as frequently as males, whites and Asians.

The case joins others targeting the technology sector’s domination by white males. Twitter Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are both fighting suits accusing them of thwarting the advancement of female technical workers and engineers. Google was hit in September with a class action alleging it systemically pays male employees more than their female counterparts.

The three women from the ride-hailing company, one of whom still works there, accused Uber of violating California’s Equal Pay Act in a complaint filed Tuesday in San Francisco state court on behalf of all engineers similarly held back.

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The women filed the complaint under a state statute that gives employees the right to step into the shoes of the state labor secretary to bring enforcement actions. That law also may give them a way around a provision in Uber’s contracts requiring workplace disputes to go through one-on-one arbitration instead of as group actions in court.

Uber uses a “stack ranking” system for evaluating employees, which requires supervisors to rank them from worst to best and results in inaccurate and subjective decisions about their performance, according to the complaint. The case against Microsoft, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, includes similar allegations.

“Female employees and employees of color are systematically undervalued compared to their male and white or Asian American peers because female employees and employees of color receive, on average, lower rankings despite equal or better performance,” according to the complaint against Uber.

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Matt Wing, a spokesman for Uber, declined to comment on the suit.

In July, Uber said that it adjusted salaries to ensure equity in pay for women and minorities.

"To date, our compensation approach has been similar to that of other pre-IPO companies, but as we’ve grown it’s become clear that we need to adjust our philosophy and continue to increase transparency going forward,” the company said at the time. “Thanks to feedback from our employees, we’re making the right investments to set ourselves up for the future."

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Along with numerous complaints against tech and venture capital companies alleging sexual harassment, the lawsuits accusing Uber, Twitter, Microsoft and Google of discrimination depict an industry rife with cultural challenges and professional biases.

In 2015, Ellen Pao put Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture front and center during a trial pitting her against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She claimed there was a sexually charged atmosphere where men preyed on their female coworkers and that she’d been blocked from promotion and fired for her gender. She lost, but the trial rallied other women to speak out.

The Uber women are suing under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, a California law that lets state keeps 75 percent of any penalties won. The remaining 25 percent is a reward for the workers who bring the case.

Penalties under PAGA can accrue to billions of dollars and Uber has faced several employment suits based on such claims. Thousands of so-called bounty hunter suits have been filed in the past 12 years.

The case is Avendano v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-562113, California Superior Court, San Francisco County.

— With assistance by Eric Newcomer

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