Uber Loses Bid to Withhold CEO Emails in Tipping Lawsuit

Jan 05, 2015 05:30 PM EST | Matt Mercuro

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A judge rejected Uber's bid to not disclose emails from Chief Executive Travis Kalanick in a California lawsuit accusing the company of deceiving customers about how it shares tips with its drivers.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen's order in San Francisco is just the latest setback for the ride-booking service, which has drawn criticism all over the world regarding its local licensing and safety laws and whether it has conducted proper background checks on its drivers.

Chen said that a Nov. 26 ruling made by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu, which granted the plaintiff the right to receive emails from Kalanick and global operations chief Ryan Graves about Uber's tipping practices, was neither legally wrong nor "clearly erroneous."

"That Judge Ryu's order may require defendant to review approximately 21,000 documents does not represent an improper burden given the potential role of defendant's CEO and vice president of operations in defendant's challenged conduct," Chen wrote in an order issued last week, according to Reuters.

Emails are set to be turned over by January 23, court records indicate.

Jacie Zolna, an attorney for plaintiff Caren Ehret, an Uber customer from Illinois, said to Reuters on Friday that his client looks forward to reviewing "this clearly relevant information."

Uber has not commented publicly regarding the news.

The Jan. 8, 2014 lawsuit accuses Uber of falsely advertising that a 20 percent gratuity on fares is "automatically added for the driver," when the company actually keeps a large amount of the portion for itself.

Ehret said this caused her and other Uber users to overpay, which amounted in a breach of contract and violated California's consumer protection laws. The lawsuit is looking for "unspecified" compensatory and punitive damages, according to Reuters.

Uber claims that Ehret doesn't need the emails she is looking for, along with other evidence like materials from general managers in cities, since they wouldn't offer a "complete understanding" of its tipping practices.

South Korea indicted Kalanick last month on charges that he violated local licensing laws, according to Reuters. The company argued that it believed its service was legal in that country.

Cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, New Delhi and Portland, Oregon have banned or looked to ban Uber services recently.

Uber, which was founded in 2009, operates in 250 cities on six different continents. It received financing in December that valued the company at approximately $40 billion, according to Reuters.

The case is Ehret vs. Uber Technologies Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-00113. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status. 

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