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Uber’s board meets tomorrow to discuss the ‘ugly’ Holder report and possible management changes

Sources said recommendations made from the investigation of the toxic culture of the car-hailing company will be considered by its directors.

Uber driver in an Uber shirt in front of a black car
The investigation wraps up with a dramatic finish
Geoffroy van der Hasselt / Getty

According to sources close to the situation, Uber’s full board will meet tomorrow (June 11) morning to consider a series of recommendations — which could include calling for the firing of some top managers — from an investigation that looked at the car-hailing company’s toxic culture.

Sources who have seen parts of it said the report chronicles an aggressive and fast-growing startup, resulting in a frequently chaotic and “hostile work environment” without adequate systems in place to ensure that violations such as sexual harassment and retaliatory behavior were dealt with professionally.

“It’s ugly,” said one person familiar with the findings. “A story of a workplace gone wrong in a lot of key ways.”

The report was conducted by Covington & Burling’s Eric Holder, who was the attorney general in the Obama administration, and Tammy Albarran. It was delivered to a special subcommittee of the board last week — Arianna Huffington, Bill Gurley and David Bonderman — which directed it.

The report has now been distributed to the entire board, which includes CEO Travis Kalanick, Uber co-founder Garrett Camp and top executive Ryan Graves.

The Holder investigation — as it has been called internally — was launched earlier this year, in the wake of an explosive blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler about pervasive sexism, unchecked sexual harassment and a general state of corporate fuck-upery.

Another law firm, Perkins Coie, did a parallel and ongoing investigation into individual cases of misbehavior — including sexual harassment, bullying and bias — which resulted in 20 firings at Uber this week. But everyone has been awaiting the more sweeping Holder report, which sought to take a bigger picture of Uber’s management issues.

The result depicts a landscape of trouble, said sources, living within an exciting and promising business that is now valued at $70 billion.

“The report would be a bombshell, except that so many bombs have already dropped, it’s hard to know how it will be received by employees and the public,” said one person familiar with the report. “One thing is clear: Uber needs to get it all out and take serious action to be able to move on.”

You think?

In any case, Uber’s staff is expected to hear from Kalanick and some of the directors on Tuesday and it’s possible parts of the report will be released publicly. While much of the full report will not be unveiled for legal reasons, said sources, what will be released will be the list of recommendations.

That includes detailing what systems need attention — Uber is already working on overhauling its damaged human resources organization — and also identifying what top executives should be held responsible for the mess in the first place.

Among those at risk, as we reported earlier, are Graves, who oversaw HR, and CTO Thuan Pham, who Fowler alleged ignored her complaints about a variety of problematic issues. Also in the crosshairs, said sources, is SVP of business Emil Michael, who is perhaps Kalanick’s closest adviser and a sometimes polarizing figure at the company, although he has only a small number of employees reporting to him.

What will be interesting to see is how much blame the Holder report will assign to Kalanick, who has also had his share of missteps at Uber, in years past and recently too. He appears to still have the support of Huffington, who has publicly said his job was not at risk.

But it is not clear how others feel about his leadership given the recent series of mishaps and past problems. At this point, with Graves and Camp, he has effective voting control of the board, but that could certainly be challenged by major shareholders. A COO search is ongoing to aid Kalanick in running the company and major roles are unfilled, including for CMO, CFO, general counsel and engineering head.

The meeting comes at a terrible moment of personal tragedy for Kalanick — last month, his mother was killed in a boating accident, which also left his father gravely ill.

Because so few people have seen the larger Holder report, several sources familiar with it declined to give specific details, although they did note that some of the issues raised in it have already been in written about by the media. That includes a ribald memo written by Kalanick that offers sexual advice to employees and also information about how another top executive named Eric Alexander obtained a confidential medical record of a woman violently raped in India in 2014 by an Uber driver.

Uber declined to comment — and, frankly, I would do the same.

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