Uber Investigator Pretended To Be Reporter To Dig Up Dirt On Lawsuit Plaintiff

Image courtesy of Uber

Two years ago, Uber was heavily criticized (by basically everyone except investor/sort-of actor Ashton Kutcher) when an executive suggested the company should probe the personal life of a reporter who criticized the ridesharing service. Now Uber has gone from trying to dig up dirt on reporters, to hiring investigators who pretend to be reporters to dig up dirt on a someone suing the company.

This revelation comes in a recent order [PDF] from a federal court judge in an antitrust lawsuit filed by an Uber customer against company founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber, as a company, is not yet party to that lawsuit, which alleges price-fixing in the ride-sharing market. However, the plaintiff in the case says that Uber hired a third-party investigation firm to pry into his private life.

According to the plaintiff, an investigator from this outside firm, Ergo, pretended to be a reporter working on a “profile of up-and-coming labor lawyers in the United States” in order to gather information about his attorney.

Uber initially denied any connection to this faux journalist, but Kalanick’s lawyer later confirmed to the plaintiff’s attorney that the company had indeed hired Ergo, though both Uber and Ergo are saying the misrepresentation was solely the action of a “misguided” Ergo employee.

“[T]here is a strong suggestion that, at a minimum, an Ergo investigator hired by Uber in connection with this case made false representations in order to gain access to information about plaintiff and his counsel,” reads the court’s ruling, “thus raising a serious risk of perverting the processes of justice before this Court.”

In May, the court said it was okay for the plaintiff to depose certain Uber and Ergo staffers, and that the plaintiff could subpoena relevant documents.

Uber and Ergo then challenged certain document requests, claiming attorney-client privilege. The judge ordered the companies to let him review the documents privately to determine if indeed there are any issues of privilege involved.

Once again, Uber balked, and instead proposed that the plaintiff first review all of the non-privileged documents before the court make any sort of determination on the challenged items.

The judge was not bowled over by this idea.

“Here, the Court finds that plaintiff has provided an entirely ‘reasonable basis’ to suspect the perpetration of a fraud and to suspect that Uber communications furthered such a fraud,” explains the court. “Additionally, another relevant area of inquiry… is whether Uber or defendant Kalanick, or their counsel, made misrepresentations in response to plaintiff’s initial inquiries about the investigation.”

With the court determining that plaintiff had met the threshold for reviewing relevant documents, the judge once again ordered Uber to provide all the disputed communications so that he could review them to determine whether they contain any privileged information.

[via Ars Technica]