A former software engineer at Uber Technologies Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the ridesharing service, claiming she was subjected to sexual harassment and subjected to retaliation for complaining about it.
The lawsuit by Ingrid Avendano provides a test of Uber’s new policy allowing people claiming sexual harassment and sexual assault to pursue their claims in court, rather than be forced into arbitration.
“Uber is moving in a new direction,” including by implementing a new salary and equity structure, overhauling performance reviews, publishing “diversity and inclusion” reports and improving training for thousands of employees, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement.
In her complaint filed in late May, Avendano said that while working for Uber from 2014 to 2017, she experienced a “male-dominated work culture, permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory, and sexually harassing conduct toward women.”
Avendano said men would openly discuss who they wanted to have sex with and share explicit content in instant messaging, while some made inappropriate comments about her appearance.
But she said Uber displayed an “entrenched disregard” for female employees, including by ignoring one incident at a Las Vegas retreat when a drunken male colleague inappropriately touched her on the thigh.
Avendano said Uber retaliated against her for complaining by denying promotions and pay raises, and subjecting her to a tough work schedule. She said her health worsened, leading to her resignation.
“For years, she wanted to help make Uber a safe and just place to work for herself and other female employees,” Avendano’s lawyer Jennifer Schwartz, with Outten & Golden, said.
Uber changed its forced-arbitration policy in May, and rival Lyft Inc. announced a similar change.
The U.S. Supreme Court said last month companies can in employment contracts require workers to arbitrate rather than pursue class-action claims over workplace matters.
In March, Uber reached a $10 million settlement of a proposed class-action suit alleging discrimination against more than 400 women and minorities.
Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has since his August appointment tried to improve the company’s image, including by stamping out its reputation as tolerant of chauvinism.
Avendano is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for gender bias, racial bias and harassment claims. She filed her suit with the California Superior Court in San Francisco. The case is Avendano v. Uber Technologies Inc., California Superior Court.
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