May 21, 2018 / 10:02 PM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-Former Uber engineer sues, tests new sex-based claims policy

(Adds details from complaint, Uber comment, earlier litigation, case citation, byline)

By Jonathan Stempel

May 21 (Reuters) - A former software engineer at Uber Technologies Inc filed a lawsuit on Monday against the ride-hailing service on Monday, claiming she was subjected to years of sexual harassment there and subjected to retaliation for complaining about it.

The lawsuit by Ingrid Avendano provides an early test of Uber's new policy allowing people claiming sexual harassment and sexual assault to pursue their claims in court, rather than be forced into arbitration.

"Uber is moving in a new direction," including by implementing a new salary and equity structure, overhauling performance reviews, publishing "diversity and inclusion" reports and improving training for thousands of employees, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement.

In her complaint, Avendano said that while working for Uber from Feb. 2014 to June 2017, she experienced a "male-dominated work culture, permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory, and sexually harassing conduct toward women."

Avendano said men would openly discuss who they wanted to have sex with and share explicit content in instant messaging, while some made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

But she said Uber displayed an "entrenched disregard" for female employees, including by ignoring one incident at a Las Vegas retreat when a drunken male colleague inappropriately touched her on the thigh.

Avendano said Uber retaliated against her for complaining by denying promotions and pay raises, giving her low performance reviews and subjecting her to a tough work schedule. She said her health worsened, leading to her resignation.

"For years, she wanted to help make Uber a safe and just place to work for herself and other female employees," Avendano's lawyer Jennifer Schwartz, a partner at Outten & Golden, said in a statement.

Uber changed its forced-arbitration policy on May 15, and rival Lyft Inc announced a similar change.

Earlier Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said companies can in employment contracts require workers to arbitrate rather than pursue class-action claims over workplace matters.

In March, Uber reached a $10 million settlement of a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination against more than 400 women and minorities. Avendano chose not to join that settlement, deciding to sue on her own.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has since his August appointment tried to improve the company's image, including by stamping out its reputation as tolerant of chauvinism.

Avendano, who is Hispanic, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for her gender bias, racial bias and harassment claims. She filed her lawsuit with the California Superior Court in San Francisco.

The case is Avendano v Uber Technologies Inc, California Superior Court, San Francisco County, No. CGC-18-566677. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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