Former Uber engineer sues for sexual harassment

UberImage copyright
Carl Court / Getty Images

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Uber is being sued for sexual harassment by a former employee

A former Uber engineer is suing the firm for sexual harassment days after it changed its policy allowing employees to take it to court.

Ex-employee Ingrid Avendano claims to have experienced sexual harassment, pay inequity and racial discrimination while working at Uber.

The new policy introduced last week overhauls the way Uber addresses US sexual harassment and assault claims.

News site Recode first reported Ms Avendano’s claims.

Ms Avendano’s complaints seem to echo those of Susan Fowler who was also an engineer at Uber working in the same department.

Ms Avendano, who worked for the firm from February 2014 to June 2017, filed her lawsuit on Monday in the California Superior Court.

In the lawsuit she claims, that during her whole time at Uber “she saw and experienced a male-dominated work culture, permeated with degrading, marginalising, discriminatory, and sexually harassing conduct towards women”.

She said that a male engineer “repeatedly made unwelcome, demeaning comments about women” in front of her and other employees and that, when reported to management, no action was taken.

Ms Avendano claimed that the same employee had told colleagues that the only reason she had a job was “because she slept with someone at the company”, according to the complaint.

The man was fired when she made further complaints. His firing she says, then resulted in her being “isolated and ignored by many male Uber managers and other employees”.


Ms Avendano now works at Netflix as a senior site reliability engineer, according to her social media profiles.

In the lawsuit, she claims that the she suffered from emotional and physical stress and was hospitalised as a result of her experience, leading her to resign.

She wants to be compensated for lost wages and benefits, and for damages related to emotional distress. She also wants to be reinstated in her job at Uber.

In its new company policies announced last week, Uber said it will no longer require confidentiality clauses in settlements or force individuals to resolve sexual harassment disputes through arbitration.

The changes follow complaints about how the firm has handled sexual assault claims and screened drivers.

The new policy, which was applauded by groups such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence, means that individual victims alleging sexual assault in the US will be able to choose where to pursue those claims, including in open court.

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi called the changes “an important step forward in our commitment to safety and transparency”.

Call for action on UK's screenwriter gender inequality

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sarah Lancashire, Bill Nighy and Anna Chancellor

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Fleabag, Happy Valley and Ordeal By Innocence are among the few TV shows to be written by women

The number of female writers working for film and television in the UK has not improved in the last 10 years, a new report suggests.

Across the whole industry, just one in six screenwriters is a woman.

Only one in 10 feature films is written chiefly by a woman, the figure dropping even lower for those with a budget greater than £10m – to just one in 14.

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, which commissioned the report, is calling for change in the industry.

Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes, behind ITV mini-series Dark Angel and the forthcoming Vanity Fair, said the research made for “shocking reading”, calling for “an honest and open debate about why this inequality still afflicts our industry”.

  • TV drama ‘too male’ say women writers
  • Women savage portrayal by male authors

Image copyright

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ITV’s forthcoming Vanity Fair stars Olivia Cooke and Tom Bateman

The report from the trade union, which represents professional writers, looked at the period from 2005 to 2016.

It showed the situation had not improved over that time, with little increase in the number of female writers.

In 2006, 21% of UK feature films had at least one female writer credited among the writing team. In 2016, the figure stood at 22%.

The picture is a little better in television with 28% of all UK TV episodes being predominantly written by women, but this figure halves for women writing for prime-time television.

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Fleabag is among just one in 10 comedy programmes to be written by a woman

Female representation in comedy and light entertainment appeared particularly low with just 11% and 9% respectively being predominantly female-written, according to the report.

It comes after a group of 76 TV drama writers signed an open letter of protest to UK broadcasters earlier this year when ITV revealed that its drama slate for 2018 had only one female writer out of nine.

Of more than 200 working writers polled, the new report indicates that only one in 20 agreed that “the way writers are hired, and scripts are commissioned, is fair and free from discrimination” – and the majority of respondents suggested that they had seen evidence of discrimination over the course of their careers.

The low numbers of female writers working in top dramas comes despite some of the most popular recent TV shows being written by women including Happy Valley (Sally Wainwright), Ordeal by Innocence (Sarah Phelps) and Girlfriends (Kay Mellor).

The report also looked at the budgets of feature films compared to UK and international box office takings and found films written by women have higher revenues – both domestically and globally – than those written predominantly by men.

Image copyright
20th Century Fox

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The Kingsman series is written by Jane Goldman

WGGB president Olivia Hetreed called on commissioners and public funders to work harder to give equal opportunities to women writers.

Hetreed, who is also a Bafta-nominated writer for her adaptation of Girl with a Pearl Earring, said: “I have been asked about the dearth of female screenwriters in this country ever since my first feature film put me into that endangered species bracket.

“I and others were reassuring: ‘It’s just a matter of time. It’s getting better. It will work itself out’. But more than a decade later, this new research shows that the number of women writing films has flat-lined at abjectly low levels.”

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As well as a presenter, Sandi Toksvig is also a writer – with more than 20 books to her name

Writer and presenter Sandi Toksvig is also among those to give her support to the campaign, saying: “There is no shortage of talented women writers in the UK, and therefore no excuse that so few of them are getting commissions in film and TV.”

Screenwriter Kay Mellor said: “It’s criminal that I can count on one hand how many women signature writers there are on TV right now. Sometimes it takes a collective to say – ‘this is not fair’ and it’s not. It’s time things changed.”

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The BBC said there would be more female writers in the new series of Doctor Who

The BBC has previously come under criticism for five of the most recent series of Doctor Who being entirely written by men.

In response, BBC One’s head of drama Piers Wenger said “a number” of the scripts for Chris Chibnall’s forthcoming debut series of Doctor Who had been written by women.

He also added that “women have written more than 40% of the drama” he had ordered since taking up his post at the BBC a year ago.

ITV’s head of drama Polly Hill said: “As we look to offer audiences the greatest range of drama, we will always support and commission female writers and take representation on and off-screen seriously.”

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  • Hugh Grant set to marry TV producer girlfriend

    British actor Hugh Grant is set to tie the knot for the first time.

    The star of films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and Paddington 2 is expected to marry the mother of three of his children, Swedish TV producer Anna Eberstein.

    A newspaper has published a photograph of wedding banns posted at Kensington and Chelsea register office, near the couple’s home in west London.

    The official notice of the forthcoming nuptials was reportedly on display on screens in the office at Chelsea Old Town Hall.

    In 2012, Eberstein, 39, had a son with 57-year-old Grant – their first child together.

    The couple then had a daughter, whose name has not been revealed, in December 2015.

    In March this year, his ex-girlfriend Liz Hurley revealed Grant and Eberstein had recently welcomed a third child but the sex is unknown.

    Grant had two children – Tabitha and Felix – with former partner Tinglan Hong.

    The actor also dated Jemima Khan in the past.

    Smart traffic lights could cut car emissions

    New smart traffic lights will be trialled in the UK in a bid to put an end to stop-start driving.

    They will advise drivers and road users what speed they need to travel at in order to arrive at the the next set of lights as they turn green.

    The hope is that it could cut congestion and reduce vehicle emissions through more efficient driving.

    The lights, developed by engineering firm AECOM, will be tested using a simulation model of the A59 in York.

    It is one of five concepts shortlisted in a competition launched by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), Highways England and Innovate UK to design roads for driverless cars.

    The lights are designed to end stop and start driving
    The lights are designed to end stop and start driving

    “We are excited and are eager to get started so we can better understand the potential impact of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies on our local road network in York,” said AECOM principal consultant Heather Hawkins.

    “We are fortunate to be living and working in a city which has chosen to be an early innovator, deploying and testing these technologies on-street through existing research programmes. It’s truly inspiring and we are grateful to be a part of it.”

    NIC chairman Sir John Armitt hailed the “progress” in the development of the cars of the future.

    “We can see for ourselves the progress in developing cars for the future, with trials of driverless cars taking place across the country,” he said.

    “We now need to make sure the technology on our roads keeps up.”

    RAC spokesman Rod Dennis praised the move to trial the traffic lights.

    “It is great to see novel technology like this being trialled,” he said. “Stop-start traffic causes drivers to use their brakes more, which causes wear, and accelerate more, which can increase vehicle emissions.”

    Boris Johnson wants his own 'Brexit plane'

    Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said he would like a “Brexit plane” to help him travel the world after complaining of the unavailability of the Prime Minister’s “grey” RAF Voyager jet.

    The minister said the PM’s jet, also used by senior cabinet members and the Royal Family, “never seems to be available” and said spending money on a new plane, which would promote the government’s vision of a global Britain, was justified if costs were not “exorbitant”.

    He suggested the current aircraft had an impact as a travelling symbol of the UK and was undermined by its “grey” appearance.

    The comments come amid Mr Johnson’s five-day tour of Latin America. He has been travelling by commercial flights and taking a variety of airlines, moving between Peru, Argentina and Chile along with an entourage of officials and journalists.

    However, the Tory politician insisted he was not concerned about his own comfort after he had to stop off in Madrid for five hours to change planes on his Air Europa service from London to Lima.

    He told reporters: “We are hard as nails, we Foreign Office types. We don’t care about changing planes, we pernoctate (spend the night) on planes.”


    Johnson: Brexit ‘can, in time, unite this whole country’

    When asked if he wanted a “Brexit plane”, the foreign secretary said: “If there’s a way of doing it that is not exorbitantly expensive then yes I think we probably do need something.

    “The taxpayers won’t want us to have some luxurious new plane, but I certainly think it’s striking that we don’t seem to have access to such a thing at the moment.”

    The Queen’s fleet of BAE 146 planes are available to the Foreign Office too. Mr Johnson used one of the 26-seater jets, which he described as “superb” but were coming up to 40-years-old, to travel to Moscow last year.

    Former prime minister Tony Blair previously planned for a prime ministerial plane but the idea was scrapped by his successor Gordon Brown to save money.

    In 2016, the Voyager jet started transporting VIPs after former prime minister David Cameron issued a £10m refit.

    He was only able to make one journey on it before handing over to Theresa May. The 58-seater aircraft has since earned the nickname “Thereasy Jet”.

    Mr Johnson said the plane’s multiple users made it hard to book, saying: “What I will say about the Voyager, I think it’s great, but it seems to be very difficult to get hold of.

    “It never seems to be available. I don’t know who uses it, but it never seems to be available.”

    He added: “Also, why does it have to be grey?”

    Boys paid more than girls for helping at home

    It is not just in the workplace that women suffer from the gender pay gap – girls also lose out when it comes to being rewarded for helping around the home.

    A survey of 500 people by Santander found that a third of parents pay children for doing household chores, with boys typically getting £6.99, while girls only received £4.67.

    And when it came to being paid for good behaviour at school the gap was even wider with boys getting almost twice as much as girls at £8.28 compared to £4.18.

    But the survey also found that while parents give with one hand, they take away with the other, with almost a fifth (18%) imposing fines for failing to complete chores and 15% docking money for playing up at school.

    The research suggested that money was the biggest, but not the only motivating factor when it came to helping at home, or towing the line in class.

    Chocolate, crisps, being praised, or being allowed to stay up later were all incentives when it came to influencing behaviour.

    The survey, which highlighted Santander’s 123 mini current account, involved more than 500 people including parents as well as children aged five to 15 years old.

    Nonfiction: The ‘Insane’ Way Our Prison System Handles the Mentally Ill

    America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness
    By Alisa Roth
    320 pp. Basic Books. $28.

    In 1946, Life magazine published an exposé that declared most American mental hospitals “a shame and a disgrace.” The report, by Albert Q. Maisel, featured scathing anecdotes of routine abuse, starvation diets, overcrowded bathrooms and cynical charades of treatment that mocked the very word. “Through public neglect and legislative penny-pinching, state after state has allowed its institutions for the care and cure of the mentally sick to degenerate into little more than concentration camps,” Maisel wrote.

    Some 70 years later, the journalist Alisa Roth has written a chilling book that argues that American jails and prisons have become de facto warehouses for the mentally ill, and that conditions inside have hardly improved from the horrors Maisel uncovered.

    More than half the prisoners incarcerated in America suffer from some kind of mental illness, Roth writes. She cites a federal study that says 75 percent of women locked up are mentally ill. Yet the American prison system is woefully unprepared to offer treatment or provide even basic mental health care to its wards. The poor conditions inside are in fact making the sick even sicker.

    “We’re not psychiatrists,” Alejandro Fernandez, a Los Angeles corrections official, tells Roth in one of the book’s many interviews with front-line observers. “We, as deputies, we know how to arrest people. We know how to put people in jail. We don’t know how to take care of people with mental illness.”

    Much has been written in recent years about the brutal racial disparity in American incarceration that has locked away generations of black men at a rate dramatically outpacing that of whites. Michelle Alexander makes the case as pointedly as anyone that mass incarceration is, as she calls it, “The New Jim Crow.”

    In “Insane,” Roth is looking to frame the incarceration and treatment of the mentally ill as the next civil rights issue.

    Roth traces the long history of how we ended up with millions of incarcerated patients all the way back to Benjamin Franklin and the founding of the Republic. America has never quite known what to do with the mentally ill, and Roth argues that the latest solution — lock them up! — is the worst option of all: morally wrong, medically wrong and economically wrong. “We continue to treat people with mental illness almost exactly as we did before electricity was invented, before women had the right to vote and before the abolition of slavery,” she writes. “Locking up vulnerable people in inhumane conditions is fundamentally immoral.”

    Roth paints a devastating portrait of lives wrecked — or ended — in prisons, stories of sick people who never got the treatment they needed outside, and certainly didn’t receive it on the inside either. It’s hard to read “Insane” without concluding that the way the criminal justice system has dealt with mental illness is profoundly broken, and that its flaws have led to tremendous anguish.

    There’s the mentally ill Virginia man, arrested for stealing $5 of junk food, who was treated by corrections officers “like a circus animal.” He died in jail, apparently of starvation.

    There’s the Florida man diagnosed with schizophrenia who fouled his cell with his own feces; he was punished with a “special” shower turned up to 160 degrees that practically boiled him alive over two hours, killing him.


    As Roth writes movingly of the human toll of incarceration, there’s a central tension in the book between society’s desire to punish lawbreakers, and the responsibility to care for the sickest among us. She argues that most mentally ill prisoners would be better served outside the prison system, and that most prisons would be cheaper and easier to manage without such a sick population.

    She convincingly diagnoses the glaring inadequacies of mental health treatment in prison — she cites a Pennsylvania penitentiary where treatment consisted of distributing coloring books — but she is not out for scapegoats. In fact, she writes sympathetically about prison officials being asked to do difficult, specialized work for which they’re woefully unequipped.

    A dogged reporter who worked for years on the radio show “Marketplace,” Roth crisscrossed the country visiting jails and prisons. At times she lets her passion steer her arguments. She writes sympathetically of an Alabama prisoner “who was barely five feet tall and slight, and, apart from having shot his mother, his only significant history of violence was against himself.” That’s a pretty big “apart.”

    Roth argues that many mentally ill prisoners are in jail for misdemeanors and minor violations like shoplifting or loitering, crimes that should have alerted mental health providers rather than pointed them toward prison.

    She ends a visit to a Los Angeles jail with this stark description: “thousands of desperately sick people receiving minimal treatment for their mental health problems, being cared for by people with little training for that aspect of the job, and all this at great expense — simply because they have been charged with a crime.”

    “Insane” is rife with sharp, brutal details that pull the reader beyond the realms of abstract policy debates. Roth describes the smell of jail: “The pungency depends in part on how often the occupant is willing to submit to a shower and how many old milk cartons he is saving in his cell (a common practice) and whether his particular demons compel him to smear the wall with feces.”

    She describes a corrections officer who nonchalantly shows her a small hooked blade that hangs from his belt loop. He tells her it’s a special tool for “cutting down” — rescuing people who have tried to hang themselves.

    While Roth writes accessibly, her book can at times read like a study of Prison Best Practices as she compares the efficacy of various Rikers Island clinics with guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association. She mitigates this with collections of thumbnail profiles, most of them shattering, about mentally ill people made worse by the prison system.

    After so much despair, Roth ends with several promising examples from around the country where the intersection of mental illness and criminal justice has not proved devastating.

    Most interesting perhaps is the case of Steve Leifman, a Florida judge who runs a jail diversion program with a simple premise: When a person with a mental illness is arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor, he or she can be steered toward treatment rather than criminal court. The vast majority opt for treatment, where they are connected with housing and other services. Recidivism is low, patients get the support they need, and the prison system saves significant funds. Leifman says that over the last decade he has managed to steer some 4,000 people out of the criminal justice system.

    That may sound like a small number compared with the scale of the national incarceration problem, and it is. But by the end of “Insane,” you are so aware of the suffering that just one mentally ill prisoner could endure that it’s a relief to look for hope where you can find it.

    'The goddess of volcanoes is showing herself'

    Some of the best pictures of the Mount Kīlauea eruptions and lava flows have come from the air, so we decided to take a helicopter to the southern coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.

    Our pilot Casey Allen flew us close to the lava pouring in to the sea.

    He was careful to stay upwind of a huge plume of toxic steam, or lava haze.

    Lava from Mount Kilauea enters the Pacific Ocean
    Lava from Mount Kilauea enters the Pacific Ocean

    The haze is produced when molten lava reacts with sea water to make hydrochloric acid and tiny shards of glass.

    Despite this, it was a breathtaking, primal scene.

    Lava oozed through the bright green rain forest in to the ocean, fissures fountaining molten rock in the distance, ash clouds hanging on the hazy skyline.

    When the lava hits the Pacific Ocean vast clouds of hydrochloric acid
    When the lava hits the Pacific Ocean vast clouds of hydrochloric acid

    Casey said: “When you live on an active volcano, this happens.

    “Yes it’s disconcerting, for sure.”

    From high up you really get a sense of the scale of these vast lava flows. They’ve simply carved through the land, some of them merging, some of them moving at 300 meters per hour.

    The lava flows are beautiful, but deadly
    The lava flows are beautiful, but deadly

    On the ground, this volatility is creating new problems by the hour. Lava is advancing on a geothermal power plant next to the evacuated area of Leilani Estates.

    Efforts have been made to use cold water to reduce the risk of lava mixing with the chemicals inside it, but there is concern that soon there might be another dangerous gas to contend with, and possibly more evacuations.

    At a pop up community centre next to a national guard road block, locals gather to exchange information, pick up supplies and get a hot meal.

    Volunteer and local resident Lililoe Kahalepauole said there were so many “mixed emotions” in the community.

    Yes it is scary, she said, but also magical, because “Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, is showing herself.

    “Flowing lava is a beautiful sight. It’s beautiful.”

    The lava flows are moving at up to 300 metres per hour
    The lava flows are moving at up to 300 metres per hour

    Ikaiku Marzo helped organise the centre. He’s been tracking fissures and new activity since it began.

    He said it was sad to watch people lose their homes and have to leave their pets behind in the rush to get out.

    But he emphasised the strength of the spirit of this place.

    He said: “The people of Puna are strong. We will rebuild. We will not leave.”

    Before anyone can rebuild, the disruptive volcanic activity has to end. But the earthquakes, eruptions and lava flows continue.

    It seems Kīlauea isn’t finished yet.

    Abortion 'a reality for Irish women' – minister

    Ireland’s health minister insists that Friday’s referendum is not about abortion but how to deal with the current reality.

    Simon Harris told Sky News: “Every day in our country, nine Irish women are going to the UK to access termination.

    “And every day in our country at least three women are taking the medical abortion pill without supervision.

    “So abortion is a reality for Irish women, for Irish women going abroad, this debate is how to deal with that reality.”

    But with only two days of campaigning left in Ireland’s abortion referendum, No campaigners insist the changes proposed by the government are too extreme.

    Dr Andrew O'Regan said abortion meant ending the life of a patient
    Dr Andrew O’Regan said abortion meant ending the life of a patient

    Doctor and anti-abortion campaigner Andrew O’Regan argued: “What the government are saying is that a GP would prescribe a chemical to end the life of one of our patients for any reason.

    “This is far more extreme than what they have for example in Britain.”

    There has been an big surge in voter registration ahead of Ireland’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, which effectively makes abortion illegal.

    If people vote to repeal, the Irish government is proposing that women could access termination within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

    Simon Harris is pushing for a Yes vote on Friday
    Simon Harris is pushing for a Yes vote on Friday

    After that period, abortions will only be allowed until the 24th week of pregnancy if there is a risk to a woman’s life, or a risk of serious harm to the physical or mental health of a woman.

    Terminations would also be permitted in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

    Under the current law, the unborn has the same right to life as the mother with the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion 14 years in prison.

    But for Ireland it is an issue dividing generations, counties and families.

    A group of diners I met in Swords, north Dublin, like many in the capital wanted to see change.

    The debate has raged on ahead of Friday's referendum


    A nation divided: Ireland’s abortion dilemma

    One business owner told me: “I had this conversation last night with my husband, men should not have a choice over a woman’s body – she should be able to make that decision herself.”

    But a two-hour drive away in Roscommon, in the rural west of Ireland, the only county to vote against equal marriage, a former nurse explained why she was voting No.

    “I nursed in England many years ago, I used to work in an operating theatre and there was a lot of abortions there,” she said.

    “I didn’t believe in abortions but I used to have to clean up the utensils afterwards, little babies dead and I wouldn’t like to see that here.”

    Emotive cases are being made by both sides.

    And with every poll claiming it will be close, the next couple of campaign days are crucial.