Tony West, Chief Legal Officer at Uber: Fostering a Culture of Compliance

by LP Green, II

Tony West joined Uber last October as its Chief Legal Officer, a key position at the company in the face of numerous lawsuits and federal investigations. Among them were a trade secrets lawsuit with Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, settled for $245 million in February, and one filed by three Latina engineers alleging discrimination based on race and gender, settled for $10 million in March. Last summer, Uber underwent a massive corporate overhaul, adopting 47 recommendations put forward by former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., according to The Washington Post. Along with colleagues at law firm Covington & Burling, Holder spent months investigating Uber’s internal culture.

The changes included new hiring practices and new reporting requirements to handle harassment complaints. West said in an interview when he joined Uber, “Fostering a culture of compliance is going to be one of my top priorities.” He wrote in a recent blog post, “… maintaining the public’s trust, and earning back the respect of customers we’ve lost through our past actions and behavior, is about more than new products and policies. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the past.”

Turning the lights on sexual predators
Addressing the lawsuits by nine women alleging sexual assault by Uber drivers, West wrote, “Every day, Uber connects 15 million trips around the world. At that scale, our service ultimately reflects the world in which we operate—both the good and the bad. And it’s clear that sexual violence remains a huge problem globally. The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community.”

West went on, “Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution. With that in mind, we’re making some important changes today.” The changes, detailed in his blog post, include eliminating mandatory arbitration and confidentiality provisions for individual sexual assault/harassment claims and publishing safety transparency reports including data on sexual assaults and other incidents.

West also noted that Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has introduced a new mantra to employees: “We do the right thing, period.” Referencing her recently saying that “sexual predators often look for a dark corner,” he concluded with, “Our message to the world is that we need to turn the lights on.”

Being a beacon for diversity and justice
Prior to Uber, West was Corporate Secretary and Executive Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs of PepsiCo. At Pepsi, he led efforts to boost the diversity of outside counsel that worked with the company. He also prioritized diversity recruitment and hiring.

West was twice confirmed by the Senate to serve as a senior official in the Obama Administration. From 2012 to 2014, he was the Associate Attorney General of the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice’s third-ranking official, where he supervised many of the Department’s divisions. Those include the Civil Rights, Antitrust, Tax, Environment and Natural Resources, and Civil Divisions, as well as the Office of Justice Programs, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Community Oriented Policing Services Office.  As Associate Attorney General, West pursued several financial institutions for their roles in precipitating the 2009 financial crisis, securing nearly $37 billion in fines and restitution for Americans who were harmed.

From 2009 to 2012, West was the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, the largest litigating division of the Justice Department. As Assistant Attorney General, he led the Justice Department’s review of the constitutionality of the Defense of Mar- riage Act, advocating strongly and successfully that the Department abandon its long-standing defense of the statute because the law was unconstitutional. When West left the Obama Administration in 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder presented him with the Edmund J. Randolph Award, the Department of Justice’s highest honor.

More about Tony West
Earlier in his career, West was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of California, where he prosecuted a variety of federal crimes. He also served as Special Assistant Attorney General at the California Department of Justice and was a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP in San Francisco. Born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, West graduated with honors from Harvard College, serving as publisher of the Harvard Political Re- view. He received his law degree from Stanford Law School, serving as President of the Stanford Law Review. West is married to Maya Harris, a lawyer and political analyst for MSNBC, who was also a senior policy adviser to the Clinton campaign. West’s sister-in-law, Kamala D. Harris, is the Democratic U.S. senator from California.

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