The two lawyers had expressed concerns about data-retention policies and allegedly made unauthorized contact with outside counsel.
Uber Technologies Inc.’s reported firing of two in-house lawyers who expressed concerns about data-retention policies and allegedly made unauthorized contact with outside counsel has raised questions among observers about the management of the law department at the ride-hailing company.
News of Uber’s firing of the two unnamed lawyers, first reported last week by the technology publication The Information, put fresh scrutiny on the law department at a time when the company is facing wider criticism about its culture and certain business practices.
Uber reportedly fired the lawyers late last year after they turned to outside attorneys for advice on proposed changes to the company’s document- and data-retention policy, allegedly without the necessary authorization from the company. According to the report, the firing of the two attorneys caused unrest on Uber’s litigation team. Three other unidentified lawyers left the company over the next several months, the publication reported.
General Counsel and other private lawyers unaffiliated with Uber said generally that the termination of the attorneys—beyond revealing tension inside the law department—provides lessons for legal officers at other companies.
“They are under the spotlight right now,” Steven Rossum, former general counsel to AirTran Airways and now a partner in Smith, Gambrell & Russell’s Atlanta office, said of Uber and its legal department. “So everything they do draws attention.”
The San Francisco-based company declined to comment on the reported firings.
Salle Yoo, Uber’s general counsel since 2012, leads an in-house department of roughly 200 members. Corporate Counsel was unable to confirm the identities of the two lawyers who were fired or the three others who reportedly left in the unrest that followed. Several lawyers who recently left the company either declined to comment or did not return calls seeking comment.
The focus on Uber’s law department has only ramped up in recent months as the company grapples with claims of pervasive sexual harassment and now a reported federal criminal investigation into the use of software—called “Greyball”—to evade regulators in cities where the ride-hailing service hadn’t yet been approved. The software, which Yoo reportedly approved, raised ethical concerns for some outside observers.
Meanwhile, the company faces mounting litigation woes—and the stakes have never been greater. Drivers for rival ride-hailing service Lyft Inc. are suing Uber over allegations the company allegedly tracked them. In February, Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo sued Uber, claiming a former employee stole intellectual property used in autonomous vehicles.
One attorney who formerly worked at Uber defended the company’s top legal chiefs. The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity and did not have direct knowledge of the two lawyers’ termination, said at Uber “I always felt encouraged, and indeed required, to speak up about concerns and to always do the right thing. Salle Yoo is a person of the highest ethical character, as is [associate general counsel] Angela Padilla.”
Concerns Over Proposed Policy
Uber’s plan to change its information governance policy was central to the concerns the two lawyers raised with outside counsel, according to the account The Information published. Yoo, together with an outside law firm and a retired federal judge, reportedly proposed the change to the policy, which included directives on data preservation.
The nature of the proposed change was not immediately known, according to The Information. Companies will amend a document retention policy for any number of reasons, including to comply with new regulations, save storage space and mitigate potential data breach losses.
Concerned about Uber’s proposal, the two lawyers reportedly reached out to several law firms for advice. The ride-hailing giant, The Information said, considered the move a breach of the employees’ ethical and fiduciary duties to the company. The in-house lawyers were also accused of providing incomplete information to outside counsel, according to the published account.
The private attorneys who were reportedly contacted could not be identified. It was unclear whether the two Uber lawyers reached out to firms with which Uber has an existing relationship. Uber has engaged a number of large firms, including Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Morrison & Foerster, and Davis Wright Tremaine for litigation and regulatory matters, and Hogan Lovells for privacy and data issues. Uber in February hired former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder Jr. of Covington & Burling to investigate sexual harassment claims lodged by a former employee.
16 May, 2017