Uber’s Top Lawyer on ‘Concrete Actions’ to Curb Sexual Misconduct

Ride-hailing giant Uber on Monday released a comprehensive plan to document – and ultimately curb – incidents of sexual misconduct within its ranks.

The company helped revolutionize an industry, but has also faced complaints that it failed to adequately address issues of sexual assault, harassment and racial discrimination. Last year, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced out, and new head Dara Khosrowshahi was brought in to overhaul the firm’s culture.

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His first major hire was Tony West, who serves as Uber’s chief legal officer. He’s a former general counsel for PepsiCo, and was the number three official in the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama. West says preventing sexual harassment and assault is a priority for Uber.

“We reflect the dynamism, diversity, complexity of society. That unfortunately is true in bad ways as well as good ways,” West said. “We were the first company to say that, in 2019, we will publish a safety data transparency report. When you say that … what you quickly realize is that you have to know what you want to count.”

In partnership with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Urban Institute, Uber has released 21 categories it will use to track reports of sexual misconduct – categories that other companies can also use to implement similar data tracking. Uber has yet to set a date to release its 2019 report, but West is braced for the findings.

“I’ve been up front about the fact that I think they may be disturbing,” West said. “But it’s important that we count it. It’s important that we measure it because that’s the only way that we can take concrete actions to mitigate it.”

In addition to tracking and releasing data on sexual misconduct, Uber has also ended the practice of mandatory arbitration in cases of assault or harassment.

“I was a Department of Justice official for half of my legal career, and one of the issues I worked on was sexual violence and sexual assault,” West said. “There are few things that strip agency and control away from survivors as much as an incident of sexual violence. We did not want to have a process that re-victimized survivors.”

As for the current state of the DOJ, West’s longtime professional home? Despite embattled former leader Jeff Sessions being ousted in favor of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a man who has been publicly skeptical of the outside investigation into the 2016 election, West expresses faith in the women and men who make up the agency – and a belief that an independent DOJ is crucial to the country.

“I don’t know Mr. Whitaker, but what I do know is that I have a deep respect for the men and women who serve our country as … members of the Department of Justice (and) the FBI. I know what’s very important to them is that their ability to carry out the rule of law without any regard to partisan or political considerations is very, very important and core to their mission, and I think we want to do everything we can to protect that,” West said.

West joins “Chicago Tonight” for a conversation.

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