Uber’s Investigator Allegedly Impersonated Journalist to Dig Up Dirt On Price-Fixing Accuser

June 12, 2016, 3:25 PM UTC
TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014 - Day 1
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks onstage at TechCrunch Discrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Photograph by Steve Jennings — Getty Images

First, Uber threatened to target critical journalists by digging into their personal lives. Now, as uncovered by Ars Technica, they’re hiring private investigators to impersonate journalists to gather information on their opponents in a lawsuit against the company.

The suit, Meyer v. Kalanick, is a class action essentially claiming that Uber’s pricing algorithm, and particularly its surge pricing model, amount to monopolistic price-fixing. In preliminary hearings in March, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that the allegations were plausible, and that the case could go forward.

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In papers filed on June 7th, Judge Rakoff recounts claims by the plaintiff that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the named defendant in the case, retained the investigation firm Ergo to “conduct an investigation of plaintiff and of plaintiff’s counsel.” In the course of that investigation, the plaintiff claims that the investigators contacted the plaintiff’s lawyer, Andrew Schmidt, and claimed to be gathering information for a “profile of up-and-coming labor lawyers in the United States.”

In the documents, Judge Rakoff describes this as “raising a serious risk of perverting the processes” of the trial.

Kalanick/Uber eventually acknowledged that they hired Ergo, but said that the investigators were not directed to misrepresent themselves. But both the defendants and the investigators have resisted the court’s efforts to subpoena documentation of the incident.

For more on Uber, watch our video.

The Judge’s June 7th filing, which was reaffirmed on June 9th, overrules most of those objections and instructs Uber and Ergo to release pertinent documents, meaning we should learn more about their sharp-elbowed defense tactics soon.

According to experts who spoke to Bloomberg at the outset of the proceedings, the lawsuit is a longshot, but one with potentially major consequences, since it target’s Uber’s core business model.

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