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Uber dismisses over 20 employees after law firm’s probe

FILE- This March 1, 2017, file photo shows an exterior view of the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. Uber has fired more than 20 employees after a law firm investigated complaints of sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other violations of company policies. An Uber spokeswoman says the firm Perkins Coie was hired after former engineer Susan Fowler posted a blog in February about sex harassment at the ride-hailing company. Fowler wrote that on her first day at work her boss propositioned her in a series of messages. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

DETROIT (AP) — Uber has fired more than 20 employees after a law firm investigated complaints of sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other violations of company policies.

The recent firings included both managers and lower-level workers, some of whom retaliated against employees after they complained about bad conduct at the ride-hailing firm, said Bobbie Wilson, a Perkins Coie partner involved in the investigation.

Uber Technologies Inc. retained the firm after former engineer Susan Fowler posted a blog in February about sex harassment at the company. Fowler wrote that on her first day at work her boss propositioned her in a series of messages.

The Perkins Coie probe is separate from one being done by former Attorney General Eric Holder. He is likely to make broader recommendations on how to change Uber’s culture when his report is released publicly next week.

Separately, Uber announced Tuesday that it has hired Apple marketing executive Bozoma Saint John, who will be Uber’s chief brand officer. She ran global consumer marketing of Apple Music and iTunes. Her task at Uber will be to improve its brand image so people like it as well as they like the company’s ride services, an Uber spokeswoman said.

After Fowler’s blog posting, Uber set up a 24-hour hotline to take complaints from employees, and hired Perkins Coie to investigate them. The firm checked into 215 complaints, and 57 remain under investigation. The hotline will remain in operation.

The probe into Fowler’s complaints is still underway, and Wilson wouldn’t say if any of those fired, or 31 other employees placed in counseling, were involved in that.

Wilson said Uber gave her law firm “unfettered access” to people and documents that were needed for the Fowler investigation.

Problems at Uber are not unusual in the technology industry, given the company’s size of more than 14,000 employees, said Wilson, whose firm has done similar work for the biggest tech companies in the nation.

The firings and hiring of Saint John are big steps in Uber’s trek toward repairing its image, which has been tarnished by Fowler’s blog and a number of management missteps so far this year.

In its ascent to becoming the world’s most valuable startup, San Francisco-based Uber took Silicon Valley’s penchant for sexism, for cutthroat, unapologetic competition and distaste for government regulation and kicked it up several notches.

For a while, this served it well. It’s the No. 1 ride-hailing company in the U.S. and is valued at nearly $70 billion. But this year, Uber’s aggressive corporate culture and its 40-year-old CEO’s self-admitted need to “fundamentally change and grow up” has caught up with it.

In addition to the sexual harassment allegations, Uber is the target of lawsuits, boycott threats and a federal investigation into claims that it has used a fake version of its app to thwart authorities. It’s also been accused of corporate espionage by Waymo, formerly Google’s autonomous vehicle arm. Uber’s former chief autonomous car researcher took confidential documents from Waymo before his startup firm was purchased by Uber, according to a Waymo lawsuit.

Uber also is searching for a chief operating officer and chief financial officer as it prepares for a possible public stock offering.

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AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed from New York.

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