Update: Emil Michael has left the company, Reuters reports.
SAN FRANCISCO – Uber’s board of directors voted unanimously to adopt all recommendations from a report about the company’s culture following allegations of sexual harassment – and may have embattled bad-boy CEO Travis Kalanick step down temporarily.
The New York Times reported Monday that Uber directors were weighing a three-month leave of absence for Kalanick, citing three people with knowledge of the board’s private meeting.
The ride-hailing service has been struggling to recover from a series of scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment.
The list of board-approved recommendations came from former U.S attorney general Eric Holder, who was hired to investigation Uber’s workplace culture and has spent months doing so. Holder recommended forcing out Emil Michael, Uber’s senior vice president of business. Michael is a Kalanick ally. Holder reportedly did not, however, recommend Kalanick be ousted. The seven-member board includes Kalanick.
Last week, Uber fired 20 employees, others have received written warnings, and others are receiving workplace training. Uber fired an executive Eric Alexander, who acquired the medical records of a customer who had allegedly been raped by an Uber driver, and reportedly shared them with Kalanick and Michael.
Kalanick, 40, founded the company in 2009 and has run it ever since, building it into a $70 billion business. But Uber’s image, culture and practices have been largely defined by Kalanick’s brash approach.
The recommendations will be released to Uber employees on Tuesday, said the board representative, who declined to be identified.
Holder and his law firm were retained in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing what she described as sexual harassment and the lack of a suitable response by senior managers. The recommendations in Holder’s firm’s report are expected to force greater controls on spending, human resources and other areas where executives led by Kalanick have had a surprising amount of autonomy for a company with more than 12,000 employees, a source familiar with the matter said.
The meeting, which Uber did not publicize, is a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company that has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries but has also run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.
If Kalanick were to temporarily step away, he might be brought back later in a role with less authority.
The company also plans to appoint Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice president at Nestle SA, to the board, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The board’s decisions follow a series of public-relations crises for Uber. The company faces a criminal probe related to a technology it created called Greyball that was used to deceive regulators in cities where it was operating.
Uber’s self-driving car program is in jeopardy after a lawsuit from Alphabet Inc alleging trade secrets theft, and the company has suffered an exodus of several of its top executives.
One Uber investor called the board’s decisions on Sunday a step in the right direction, giving Uber an “opportunity to reboot.”
Reporting by Heather Somerville and Joseph Menn