Just a month after Uber announced a special investigation into claims of sexual harassment and discrimination within the company, it’s CEO Travis Kalanick has landed in hot waters when it was revealed that he visited an escort karaoke bar with other employees in 2014.
The details are lewd. Top Uber executives, including Mr. Kalanick, his then girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth, and senior VP of business Emil Michael hung out with their favorite women at the bar; get this—picked from a line-up.
In a case where over-the-top Hollywood storyline met reality, the women wore numbered tags and sat in a circle, as the Uber executives called out their tag numbers, reminiscent of a particularly bizarre scene from the blockbuster movie Taken, starring Liam Neeson. Later, the group along with their escorts headed downstairs to sing karaoke.
A disgruntled female employee lodged an official complaint to Uber HR, but only a year later.
A report claims that she was part of the original group and witnessed the scenes unfold in disbelief and left the party mid-way “visibly upset.”
Gabi Holzwarth, 27, has now come forward to reporters, including the fact that Michael asked her repeatedly to keep the details of the Seoul trip from reporters, especially the fact that the venue entertained the employees with women who came with numbers pinned to them.
Ms. Holzwarth’s decision to come forward to reporters seems like an open revolt against Kalanick, whose phone calls may have been meant to “silence” her.
Kalanick defended his decision to call his ex-girlfriend in a statement: “given the intense news cycle I thought it was the right thing to do to reach out and let (Holzwarth) know that reporters may try to contact her directly. I have known her for a long time, consider her a friend and did not want her to be taken by surprise.”
Many a scandal
Uber has been rocked repeatedly by high-profile allegations against a rampant sexist company culture.
Susan Fowler, an ex-engineer with Uber wrote a blog post about her terrible experience in the company.
It has been viewed millions of times, and reported on widely.
Bearing the weight
The company is clearly feeling the brunt of the accusations.
Uber’s President Jeff Jones and Vice President of maps Brian McClendon quit the company a week ago.
It was also reported that more than 200,000 Uber users deleted their app in the last weekend of January alone as part of the #DeleteUber movement.
Uber is minimizing it
A statement from Uber says that “This all happened about three years ago and was previously reported to human resources. In early March it was referred to Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran as part of their review.”
Once again, Uber finds itself on the backfoot, mostly for self-inflicted wounds. It is incessantly battling the image of a playground of privileged white males who operate above the law and with little propriety.