Did Uber India officials know about rape victim’s medical records being accessed?

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Bengaluru: Some executives at Uber India said on Thursday they knew that a senior company leader had accessed the medical records of the woman who was raped by an Uber driver in 2014 in Delhi, according to one person familiar with the matter who spoke a day after a report by technology website Recode.

Eric Alexander, who was then the head of Uber’s Asia Pacific business, had sought the medical records because he and some other senior executives at Uber had doubts that the woman had been raped, Recode reported on Wednesday night, citing anonymous sources. Alexander left Uber this week after Recode and other publications got hold of information about Alexander’s actions.

In December 2014, Shiv Kumar Yadav, an Uber driver in Delhi, raped a woman rider. Yadav was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2015 by a sessions court after a fast-track trial.

Some senior leaders at Uber’s India unit knew that Alexander had secured the rape victim’s medical records, the person cited above said on condition of anonymity. The person declined to name them.

It’s not clear how Alexander obtained the medical records of the rape victim and whether his actions were legal.

Uber did not respond to queries seeking comment about some Uber India employees having knowledge of Alexander’s actions.

Alexander’s actions were being investigated as part of a wide-ranging probe into Uber’s practices on issues such as sexual harassment and professionalism. Uber’s board hired two law firms, Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling, to conduct the investigation after reports emerged earlier this year about several instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by members of the company’s management team. Uber has already fired 20 employees as part of this probe though Alexander wasn’t one of them.

In its report, Recode said that Alexander showed the medical records to Uber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick and Emil Michael, another senior leader. All three believed it was possible that Ola, Uber’s arch-rival in India, had orchestrated the incident, Recode reported. After seeing the records, the three executives further doubted that the woman had been raped, the report said.

“The 2014 crime in Delhi was absolutely horrific and something no one should ever go through. Uber responded by working closely with law enforcement and the prosecution to support their investigation and see the perpetrator brought to justice. We have taken significant steps to improve our safety processes and policies in recent years to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the app. We remain committed to the riders and driver partners who rely on Uber every day in India,” Amit Jain, president, Uber India, said in an email response.

Ola denied any involvement in the matter.

“It is a shame that the privacy and morals of a woman have to be questioned in an attempt to trivialise a horrific crime. It is despicable that anyone can even conceive an attempt to malign competition using this as an opportunity. If this report were to be even remotely true, this is an all time low on morality and a reflection of the very character of an organization,” an Ola spokesperson said in an email.

The rape in December 2014 was a watershed moment for Uber in India. The service was banned by the Delhi government for a few weeks and Uber was forced to be stricter about its driver verification processes, add an SOS button on its app and launch an expensive marketing and public relations campaign to repair its image.