Away CEO is stepping down in light of reports of toxic culture

Away CEO Steph Korey is stepping down following The Verge’s report of toxic culture at the luggage startup. Taking her spot is Stuart Haselden, the now-former COO at Lululemon, The Wall Street Journal reports. Korey will remain on board as executive chairman.

Following The Verge’s story, which described a workplace where Korey was known for berating employees via Slack, Korey tweeted last week that she was “making things right” at the company.

“I’m not proud of my behavior in those moments, and I’m sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it,” she tweeted. “It was wrong, plain and simple.”

She added that she had also been working with an executive coach since those incidents the report highlighted. According to The Wall Street Journal, Away had been looking for Korey’s replacement since the spring.

Away declined to comment but confirmed the news.

 

Bird lays off several Scoot employees

Bird has laid off less than two dozen employees, The San Francisco Chronicle first reported. The layoffs affect employees Bird brought on board as part of its ~$25 million acquisition of Scoot earlier this year.

Those affected were salaried employees and/or people with technical backgrounds, according to Bird.

“The integration of Bird and Scoot does not impact or change our previous or future commitments to San Francisco or to providing its residents and visitors access to the highest quality and most reliable shared micromobility vehicles and services,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are planning to relocate a number of Scoot team members to our Santa Monica headquarters while also maintaining an office in San Francisco for our operations and maintenance teams as well as a number of regionally specific roles.”

Scoot currently operates electric kick scooters and mopeds in San Francisco, where it’s one of four companies permitted to do so, as well as other types of vehicles in Santiago and Barcelona.

This round marks Bird’s second set of layoffs this year. In March, Bird laid off between 4-5% of its workforce. Those layoffs were part of Bird’s annual performance review process and only affected U.S.-based employees.

In October, Bird closed a $275 million Series D round led by CDPQ and Sequoia Capital at a $2.5 billion pre-money valuation. That same month, at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told me he wants the Scoot brand to live on.

“We think it is a strong brand particularly with cities and so we want it to live on,” he said. “It’ll certainly live on in San Francisco. And then we’re still trying to figure out in other cities what makes the most sense for the brand.”

Uber reveals thousands of sexual assault reports last year

Uber just released its first-ever safety report that covers sexual assault. Let’s jump right in.

In 2017, Uber received 2,936 reports pertaining to sexual assault, and received 3,045 in 2018. Despite the increase in raw numbers, Uber saw a 16% decrease in the average incident rate, which it suggests may correlate with the company’s increased focus on safety as of late.

Uber categorizes sexual assaults into five subcategories: non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part, attempted non-consensual sexual penetration, non-consenual touching of a sexual body part, non-consensual kissing of a sexual body part, and non-consensual sexual penetration.

Regarding the last subcategory, which is rape, Uber received 229 reports of rape in 2017 and 235 reports of rape in 2018. Throughout 2017 and 2018, the reported incidents occurred on 0.00002% of trips, according to Uber.

“While these reports are rare, every report represents an individual who came forward to share an intensely painful experience,” Uber wrote in its report. “Even one report is one too many.”

To be clear, these reported assaults happened to both riders and drivers. Though, Uber found riders account for nearly half of the accused parties across those five most serious sexual assault categories.

“Voluntarily publishing a report that discusses these difficult safety issues is not easy,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West wrote in a blog post. “Most companies don’t talk about issues like sexual violence because doing so risks inviting negative headlines and public criticism. But we feel it’s time for a new approach. As someone who has prosecuted sex crimes and worked on these issues for more than 25 years, I can tell you that a new approach is sorely needed.”

Uber has long been under scrutiny for its safety practices. In 2017, a woman who was raped by her Uber driver in India filed a lawsuit against the company for violating her privacy. In an independent investigation conducted by CNN, the publication found 103 Uber drivers who had been accused of sexual assault or abuse of passengers.

Over the years, Uber has implemented a number of safety measures designed to help prevent situations like those. In May 2018, Uber added an in-app 911 calling feature. Later that year, Uber added a feature called Ride Check, which will activate if the GPS sensor in the driver’s phone notices there’s an abnormally long or unexpected stop during the trip.

“Confronting sexual violence requires honesty, and it’s only by shining a light on these issues that we can begin to provide clarity on something that touches every corner of society,” West wrote. “And, most importantly, by bringing hard data to bear, we can make every trip safer for drivers and riders alike.”

Elizabeth Warren is reportedly drafting legislation to allow gig workers to unionize

A key ask from gig workers this year has been the right to unionize. Now, Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is reportedly drafting a bill that would enable gig workers to do just that, CNBC reports.

In collaboration with Congressperson David Cicilline, the legislation would also ban “mega mergers” between companies where one has more than $40 billion in annual revenue or both have at least $15 billion in annual revenue.

Leading up to the legalization California Assembly Bill 5, gig workers demanded better pay, basic workplace protections and the right to organize through unions. Now that AB-5 has been signed into law, it will legally be harder for companies to classify gig workers as 1099 independent contractors if challenged in court. However, gig workers still want the right to form unions.

Following the passage of AB-5, rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising member Edan Alva said unions are critical. AB-5, he said, is only the beginning. On top of that, AB-5 is only specific to California. What Warren is reportedly proposing would cover the entire nation.

TechCrunch has reached out to Warren and will update this story if we hear back.

Fired Google workers will file federal complaint alleging the company wrongfully terminated them

The four ex-Google employees, also known as the “Thanksgiving Four,” who were fired right before the holiday, are planning to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“We look forward to hearing the NLRB’s findings, which we expect will confirm that Google acted unlawfully,” ex-Googlers Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman wrote on Medium today.

The plan is to argue that Google fired them for organizing, which is a protected activity. As the Thanksgiving Four outlined on Medium, they organized around a variety of topics, including Google’s treatment of its temporary, vendor and contractor workers, Google’s alleged retaliation against employees who organized, the company’s work with Customs and Border Protection and more.

“Google didn’t respond by honoring its values, or abiding by the law,” the four wrote on Medium. “It responded like a large corporation more interested in revenue growth than in ensuring worker rights and ethical conduct. Last week, Google fired us for engaging in protected labor organizing.”

Last month, Google put Rivers and Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers.

Following a protest in support of the two, Rivers, Berland, Duke and Waldman were fired.

Google declined to comment but confirmed an internal note published by Bloomberg, which said Google fired a total of four employees for repeatedly violating its data-security policies.

Since the massive employee-led walkout last November, organizers say Google has tried to undermine further attempts to organize. In July, walkout co-organizer Meredith Whittaker left the company following reports of retaliation in April. Organizers of the rally say both Rivers and Berland were put on leave for “simply looking at openly shared internal information.”

The Thanksgiving Four’s terminations came shortly after The New York Times reported Google hired an anti-union firm, IRI Consultants. Google employees, who the Times kept anonymous, discovered Google’s relationship with ISI via internal calendar entries.

“Google fails to understand that workers are the ones who built the company and its most successful products,” the four wrote. “And that we can stop building them. No company — tech giant or otherwise — should be able to interfere with workers’ rights to organize for better working conditions, including ethical business practices.”

TechCrunch has reached out to Google and will update this story if we hear back.

Google employee activist says she’s been fired

Google has terminated Rebecca Rivers, an employee activist the company put on indefinite administrative leave this month, Rivers tweeted this afternoon.

Earlier this month, Google put Rivers and Laurence Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers.

Protestors on Friday, however, said Google was punishing Berland and Rivers for speaking out against the company. The rally, where both Berland and Rivers spoke, was in protest of their administrative leaves.

Ahead of the rally, organizers said the “attack” on Rivers and Berland “is an attack on all people who care about transparency and accountability for tech.” Organizers pointed to how Rivers helped create the petition to demand Google end its contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and how Berland has participated in a number of worker-organized campaigns, including the one resisting YouTube’s role in facilitating hate speech.

Since the massive employee-led walkout last November, organizers say Google has tried to undermine further attempts to organize. In July, walkout co-organizer Meredith Whittaker left the company following reports of retaliation in April. Organizers of the rally say both Rivers and Berland were put on leave for “simply looking at openly shared internal information.”

This comes shortly after The New York Times reported Google hired an anti-union firm, ISI Consultants. Google employees, who the Times kept anonymous, discovered Google’s relationship with ISI via internal calendar entries.

I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.

Airbnb COO Belinda Johnson is leaving the company next year

Airbnb COO Belinda Johnson notified employees of her impending departure next March, CNBC first reported. Airbnb has since confirmed the news, saying Johnson will remain involved with the company on its board of directors. Her last day as COO will be March 1, 2020.

News of Johnson stepping down comes as Airbnb gears up to make its initial public offering next year. In September, the company announced it hit more than $1 billion in revenue in Q2 2019. Airbnb says it has also been EBITDA profitable for the last two years.

However, Airbnb is no stranger to controversy. Between regulatory issues stemming from Airbnb’s impact on housing prices to discrimination, Airbnb has some buttoning up to do before it goes public.

Johnson’s decision to leave came down to work-life balance, she said in a note posted on the Airbnb newsroom.

“Being elevated to the Board of Directors and contributing to the long term success of Airbnb while taking more time to be with my amazing family is an incredible opportunity,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who joined Airbnb back in 2011, was the first executive Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky ever hired.

“Though we intend for her to serve on our board for a long time to come, I have told Belinda that she can return to Airbnb as an executive if she ever wishes to do so,” Chesky wrote.

Google employees will rally in protest of alleged worker retaliation

Google is under fire again for its treatment of employees. Tomorrow, a group of Google employees are holding a rally and press conference to speak out against the company’s decision to place two employees on indefinite administrative leave.

Earlier this month, Google fired one employee and put two, Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers, on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers. Both Berland and Rivers are set to speak tomorrow at the rally.

This news was reported earlier by Forbes’ Jillian D’Onfro.

“The company is claiming that it is for looking up calendars and documents, which is something we all do  but we know that it is punishment for speaking up for themselves and others,” workers organizing at Google said in a press release. “We are demanding that Google bring these workers back to work immediately.”

They went on to say that the “attack” on Rivers and Berland “is an attack on all people who care about transparency and accountability for tech.” Organizers pointed to how Rivers helped create the petition to demand Google end its contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and how Berland has participated in a number of worker-organized campaigns, including the one resisting YouTube’s role in facilitating hate speech.

“It’s a brute force intimidation attempt to silence workers and make it harder for us to fight back on issues of systemic racism, sexual harassment, harmful technologies, hate speech on our platforms, and business relationships with organizations that engage in human rights abuses,” organizers said.

Since the massive employee-led walkout last November, organizers say Google has tried to undermine further attempts to organize. In July, walkout co-organizer Meredith Whittaker left the company following reports of retaliation in April. Organizers of tomorrow’s rally also say Google has implemented new policies, like accessing need-to-know data a fireable offense. Organizers of the rally say both Rivers and Berland were put on leave for “simply looking at openly shared internal information.”

The rally will start at 11 a.m. at Google’s San Francisco office at 345 Spear Street. I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.

How Airbnb handles discrimination claims

When disability rights lawyer Haben Girma, who is blind and deaf, booked an apartment in London via Airbnb last month, she says the host cancelled her reservation after she disclosed that her guide dog would be joining her.

Prior to the cancellation, Girma and the host, Kirk Truman, had a lengthy exchange over the course of about a week-and-a-half in which Girma explained her situation, as well as educated the host about Airbnb’s non-discrimination policy that protects both her and her guide dog, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equality Act in the U.K., she told TechCrunch.

Despite this discussion, which TechCrunch has read and reviewed, Truman continued to express concern, saying, “I think my freeholder would be really unhappy with me if he found out that I had somebody stay in the flat with a dog/guide dog.”

The discussion continued, with Truman saying that “it should all be fine.” In the same message, he added that, had he “known when you first requested to book about you bringing your guide dog, I would’ve spoken to you about all we’ve discussed before proceeding with the booking.”

But ultimately, a couple of weeks later, Truman canceled Girma’s reservation. He justified the cancellation by saying the property would be undergoing some work during her scheduled stay, according to the conversation reviewed by TechCrunch. However, Girma says when her friend tried to book the same dates at that property five days later, Truman accepted the reservation.

When reached for comment about why Truman accepted her friend’s reservation for those same dates, Truman told TechCrunch via email his property has a leak and that the repairs are supposed to happen this coming weekend (November 23-24), which is when Girma was originally scheduled to stay at his flat.

“These dates were changed to this week by the contractor but then again changed to this coming weekend and are likely to be delayed into next week,” Truman said. “I should also add, that I also had to cancel another booking due to the issues with the leak as it happened again quite recently.”

It was when Girma found out Truman accepted her friend’s reservation for the same dates that she reached out to Airbnb. The company expressed remorse and told Girma that it would review the situation to determine if Truman deserved a warning, account suspension or permanent removal from the platform.

“For privacy reasons we can’t share what will happen after the review, but we want you to know that we are committed to fighting discrimination and ensuring that the Airbnb community is open and accessible to everyone,” an Airbnb customer service representative named Matt wrote to her in a message reviewed by TechCrunch.

But Girma took issue with the fact that Airbnb said it would keep the resolution of the review process quiet.

“Telling victims of discrimination that the result of the review process is private contributes to guests feeling like the platform is not safe,” Girma told TechCrunch via email. “We want to know if the company decides to protect discriminatory hosts. The company needs to be transparent with victims of discrimination.”

Girma proceeded to engage in a discussion with Airbnb, in which the company continued to say that its privacy policy prohibited it from communicating the results of the investigation to her. Airbnb offered to help her find a new place to stay, but Girma said she was not interested.

“I’m interested in whether or not Airbnb will take action, and I’m deeply disappointed that the company has chosen not to tell me what will be done in this incident,” Girma wrote to Airbnb.

In response, Airbnb reiterated that it would not disclose what actions it took with Truman. About one week later, however, Airbnb changed its course and let her know that the company took the route of host education. Additionally, Airbnb said Truman was now aware that future violations could result in his removal from the Airbnb platform.

But Girma said she had already gone out of her way to educate the host about Airbnb’s policy, as well as the ADA and the U.K.’s Equality Act.

“He knew it would be against your policy, and still canceled my reservation,” Girma wrote to Airbnb. “He claimed it was because the flat would have construction during my dates. My nondisabled friend then applied to stay at the flat for the exact same dates, and Kirk immediately accepted my friend’s reservation. All of this is in the records I sent to you.”

Girma then expressed dismay that Airbnb had chosen not to remove Truman and asked the company to reconsider. Shortly after sending that message, Girma got in touch with TechCrunch.

Following an inquiry from TechCrunch, Airbnb said it would suspend Truman for 30 days:

“To use our platform, Airbnb community members must commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of disability, race, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias. We have suspended this host and sincerely thank Haben both for reporting this incident and for her past work to help Airbnb’s team better serve the disability community.”

In determining what action to take, Airbnb concluded that what Truman did fell into the category of discriminatory impact versus discriminatory intent. So, if a host calls the guest the N-word, that’s discriminatory intent and impact, which would result in immediate removal from the platform. Discriminatory impact, according to Airbnb, is how it sees this situation between Girma and the host. Airbnb’s theory is that Truman is not irredeemable and can learn from this situation. And, if he doesn’t, then he may be removed entirely.

“I understand the implication yes, though this was not why Haben’s booking was cancelled in the first place,” Truman told TechCrunch. “I have written to Airbnb to appeal against this decision as I feel there appears to have been a misunderstanding.”

Airbnb has since notified Girma of the resolution, which entails the aforementioned 30-day suspension, as well as a re-education of its policies. However, she says this is a “gentle” punishment.

“Responding to violations by educating hosts again and again creates a culture where hosts know they can get away with discrimination,” Girma said. “And if they are extremely unlucky the worst that will happen is a thirty-day suspension.”

Even more alarming, Girma said, is that Airbnb told her the company has instructed Truman that any similar violation “may result” in his removal.

“Airbnb cannot even commit to removing Kirk if he does this again,” she said. “I’m deeply concerned about the lack of enforcement.”

Airbnb has since offered Girma money to cover her costs of seeking accommodation elsewhere, but she says she does not plan to accept any compensation.

What Girma would prefer, she told TechCrunch, is for Airbnb to commit to making the complaint process transparent to victims, strictly enforce the accessibility policy and remove hosts who violate it.

“The company has thousands and thousands of hosts; why is Airbnb so intent on protecting a host that knowingly violated policies and discriminated against a disabled guest?” Girma wondered. “Airbnb has a systemic enforcement problem. Knowingly violating Airbnb policy apparently won’t even get hosts removed from the platform. Airbnb policy is to not tell victims of discrimination the results of complaint reviews. How will guests ever feel safe using Airbnb when we know hosts that violate Airbnb’s own policies stay on the platform?”

Airbnb has long faced issues with discrimination. In 2016, the company announced product and policy changes aimed at eradicating racist behavior. That included a new non-discrimination policy and a mandatory community commitment to treat fellow platform members with respect and without judgment and bias.

It’s worth noting Airbnb has also made some positive changes on the accessibility front. Last March, it added accessibility filters to make it easier for people with disabilities to find accessible travel accommodations, such as places with step-free entry and entryways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

But despite Airbnb’s attempts to educate hosts and create a platform that fosters inclusivity, it’s clear that not all hosts are on board, which is still resulting in discrimination. If you’ve experienced discrimination on Airbnb, please get in touch with me at [email protected]

Scooter maker Superpedestrian raises $20 million as it gears up to launch

Superpedestrian, the startup working with a handful of scooter operators to deploy vehicles that can perform self-diagnostics, just raised a $20 million round from Spark Capital, General Catalyst, Hanaco Ventures and Empire Angels. This brings Superpedestrian’s total funding to $64 million.

Superpedestrian has yet to announce its operating partners, but is on track to launch in multiple markets in January.

Superpedestrian scooters can last up to seven days without recharging, assuming about five to six rides per day, its CEO Assaf Biderman told TechCrunch. But its key offering is the vehicle intelligence platform, which is designed to detect more than one hundred situations that could lead to malfunction, triage each issue and then determine what response to take in order to prevent vehicle damage and rider injury.

“The vehicle is constantly asking itself if it’s safe,” Biderman said.

That means Superpedestrian’s software is continuously monitoring for things like water penetration, cut internal wires, battery cell temperature imbalances, braking issues and more. Superpedestrian’s software is also able to quickly enforce local speed limits via geofencing.

Superpedestrian isn’t disclosing how much it’s selling its platform and vehicles to operators, but says the price is competitive with the other products on the market. While Biderman says Superpedestrian is currently focused on selling to operators, the company does plan to eventually sell directly to consumers.

While launching and operating shared micromobility services is no longer novel, Superpedstrian is trying to take advantage of an emerging opportunity in the space. That opportunity is software. As business and mobility analyst Horace Dediu recently told me, these micromobility vehicles have an opportunity to also be software hubs. In fact, he said it’s where he expects bigger players like Google and Apple to enter the space.