Controversy-battered Uber hires top legal officer

2 min

San Francisco (AFP)

Uber on Friday said it has hired a new top legal officer as the ride-sharing star battles controversy in the workplace as well as on the streets.

Tony West will begin working at San Francisco-based Uber next month, leaving a post as chief legal officer at Pepsi, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said in an email to employees, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

West's experience as a former federal prosecutor and a senior Department of Justice official while Barack Obama was US president make him "well equipped to handle the investigations into our past practices," according to Khosrowshahi.

Uber's image has been dented by a litany of controversies about a cut-throat workplace and unscrupulous tactics with regulators and rivals.

Uber board member Arianna Huffington earlier this month blamed a "burnout culture" for fueling sexism at the world's leading smartphone-summoned ride sharing service.

Uber launched an "urgent investigation" early this year after an engineer who worked at the company until late 2016 alleged that her manager made sexual advances shortly after she joined.

She wrote in a blog post that she complained to more senior managers and the company's human resources department, but was told that it was the man's "first offense" and that they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing a "high performer."

The woman said she met other female Uber engineers who said they had experienced similar harassment.

Uber hired former attorney general Eric Holder to review workplace conditions after the allegations. The probe resulted in firings and an outline for needed changes.

West will be starting at Uber the same month a trial is to begin in a civil suit filed by Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google-parent Alphabet.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo, which claimed former manager Anthony Levandowski took a trove of technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber.

Waymo argued in the lawsuit that a "calculated theft" of its technology netted Otto a buyout of more than $500 million and enabled Uber to revive a stalled self-driving car program.

Uber acquired commercial transport-focused Otto late last year as the company pressed ahead with its pursuit of self-driving technology.

Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.