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Uber fires executive who accessed Delhi rape victim’s medical records

Hong Kong-based Eric Alexander, who headed the company’s Asia Pacific operations, told the Uber leadership that the firm’s chief rival in India — Ola — may have been behind the woman making the complaint.

world Updated: Jun 14, 2017 08:54 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Ride-hailing service Uber,Uber CEO Travis Kalanick,Uber senior vice president Emil Michael
File photo of the Uber headquarters in San Francisco.(AP)

Ride-hailing service Uber has fired a top executive who obtained the medical records of a Delhi woman raped by a cab driver affiliated with the company in 2014. Hong Kong-based Eric Alexander, who headed the company’s Asia Pacific operations, carried the report around for months, arguing successfully to the firm’s leadership in the US that a rival service may have been behind the complainant.

Alexander was fired on Tuesday after reporters asked the company, headquartered in San Francisco, about his status, according to online publication Recode. His dismissal comes in the wake of internal turmoil in Uber over allegations of widespread misconduct, sexism and sexual discrimination that the company is getting investigated by outside legal teams, including one led by former US President Barack Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder.

The company announced to its staff on Tuesday the firing of 20 employees in the past some months, after another investigation. But Alexander, who is considered close to both CEO Travis Kalanick and senior vice president Emil Michael, was not among them.

It wasn’t clear if Alexander reached India after the incident or he was already there at the time, but Recode said he conducted his own investigation in India. He brought the victim’s medical records and showed them to both Kalanick and Michael. They had raised doubts about the woman’s account despite having no expertise in evaluating medical records and put forth the prospect of Ola — the company’s chief rival in India — being behind it.

The driver, who had a history of sexual assault and rape and had four other cases pending against him, was found guilty by a Delhi court and sentenced to prison for life. The incident had led to a ban on Uber, which was later lifted in June 2015.

The case also received international attention because of other incidents of sexual assault by Uber drivers, raising questions about safety on these cabs stemming from the company’s unique business model that allowed it then to deny responsibility for its drivers, arguing they were not employees.

Uber had publicly seemed outraged by the incident and applauded the sentencing of the assailant, vowing to improve its screening of driver. Amit Jain, Uber’s India head, had said in a statement: “Safety is a priority for Uber and we’ve made many improvements — in terms of new technology, enhanced background checks and better 24/7 customer support — as a result of the lessons we learned from this awful case.”

But internally, it has now been reported, the company leadership seemed to doubt the victim’s account, based on her medical records obtained by Alexander.

Recode reported that Alexander kept the medical records with him for a year before other executives, possibly of the legal department, took it from him and destroyed it.

First Published: Jun 08, 2017 20:43 IST