Uber Engineer Commits Suicide, Widow Says ‘Workplace Culture’ to Blame

Uber corporate office

*Joseph Thomas had actually turned down an offer at Apple to come to work for Uber six months ago. Formerly at LinkedIn, his reason wasn’t so much the $170K salary he’d receive, but he thought he would be able to grow at a faster pace, and benefit from the company’s stock options once they went public.

I doubt seriously suicide from the stress of Uber’s workplace culture was even on his radar. Yet that is exactly what happened when one afternoon, his wife Zecole, came home to find her husband sitting in his car in the garage, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. She decided to get in on the passenger side to talk, and that’s when she saw the blood.

Joseph had shot himself. Two days later he died in the hospital. Now the widow has filed a Worker’s Compensation claim and is blaming Uber for her husband’s mental distress.

Joseph, a brilliant engineer, and one of the few African American techies (according to Uber’s first diversity report released in March, Blacks account for 1 percent of its tech workers and none of its tech leaders) had talked to his family about the depression that had set in because of his job. The family even encouraged him to seek professional help. He admitted to the psychiatrist that he felt anxious, had trouble sleeping, and even feared losing his job.

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His family and friends encouraged him to quit, but refused.

Joseph’s dad, Joe Thomas, who also blames Uber for his son’s suicide, says his son even described a sort of brainwashing at Uber.

“If you put a hard-driving person on unrealistic tasks, it puts them in failure mode. It makes them burn themselves out; like driving a Lamborghini in first gear.”

Zecola, the elder Mr. Thompson, and the family’s attorney believe Joseph may have dealt with racism at the office as well.

Of course this isn’t the first time the ride-share company has come under fire for its workplace ethics. A few months back software engineer Susan Fowler, a Caucasian woman, wrote a blog post about sexual harassment at Uber, and how the human resources department turned their heads when she tried to bring it to their attention. At least three other complaints of sexual harassment have also been made.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes…

Even early investors Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor posted an open letter to Uber blasting it for “a culture plagued by disrespect, exclusionary cliques, lack of diversity, and tolerance for bullying and harassment of every form.”

(Sidebar from Editor: I don’t think there is a Black person alive who has worked in a corporate environment that can’t relate to the workplace scenario described above).

Now, with Thomas’ death, Uber’s HR says he never complained to the company about extreme stress or racial discrimination.

Uber refuses to comment on the legal aspects, but through spokeswoman Eva Behrend says, “No family should go through the unspeakable heartbreak the Thomas family has experienced. Our prayers and thoughts are with them.

Joseph may have had no colleagues at work to share his frustrations with, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports he had given clues about his distress to a friend on Facebook just one month prior to killing himself.

“Man words can’t really describe. I’m not dead but I wouldn’t describe myself as ok,” Thomas wrote, according to screenshots of the chat provided by close friend Neil Mirchandani.

“The sad thing is this place (Uber) has broken me to the point where I don’t have the strength to look for another job,” Thomas wrote.

 

 

 

 

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