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Uber to pay $4.4M over sexual harassment and retaliation charges

After a more than two-year investigation by a government watchdog, the ride-hailing company agrees to compensate employees who faced sexual discrimination by their managers.

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Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was at the helm of the company when the EEOC started its investigation into sexual harassment and retaliation.

James Martin/CNET

Uber is looking to close the door on one chapter of its history: the alleged sexual harassment and retaliation of its employees by their managers. The ride-hailing company said Wednesday it would create a $4.4 million fund to compensate those individuals who've experienced such issues.

The agreement was made with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was the culmination of a more than two-year investigation by the government agency. Uber entered into the agreement voluntarily.

During the EEOC's investigation, which began in 2017, the agency found that Uber reportedly "permitted a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about such harassment, in violation [of] Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Uber had a terrible year in 2017. The company was involved in a barrage of scandals, one of which included a bombshell blog written by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. Her account detailed a chaotic corporate culture at the company that was rife with sexual harassment. The allegations led to lawsuits, an investigation by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and eventually the ouster of company CEO Travis Kalanick.

When current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi came on board, he vowed to make things right. He hired the company's first chief diversity and inclusion officer and rewrote the company values to include norms like "we celebrate differences." Last week, Uber became the first company in its sector to release the number of sexual assaults that happen during its rides, which totaled nearly 6,000 in 2017 and 2018.

In its agreement with the EEOC, Uber will compensate anyone who the government agency determines experienced sexual harassment or retaliation at the company from Jan. 1, 2014 to June 30 of this year. The company will also create a system to identify employees who've been the subject of more than one harassment complaint and for managers who've failed to respond to allegations of sexual harassment in a timely manner.

"We've worked hard to ensure that all employees can thrive at Uber by putting fairness and accountability at the heart of who we are and what we do," Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, said in a statement. "I am extremely pleased that we were able to work jointly with the EEOC in continuing to strengthen these efforts."

Uber has additionally agreed to be monitored for three years by an outside party and will continue to do surveys and exit interviews with employees with specific attention to sexual harassment and retaliation.

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"This agreement will hopefully empower women in technology to speak up against sexism in the workplace knowing that their voices can yield meaningful change," said Ami Sanghvi, senior trial attorney for the EEOC, who advised on the investigation.