A widow is blaming Uber’s stressful work environment on her husband’s suicide, according to a Tuesday report from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Zecole Thomas, mother of two sons aged 7 and 9, said she came home one day in August after dropping their children off at school to find her husband Joseph Thomas sitting in his car in the garage. After entering the passenger side to talk to him, Zecole said she discovered blood. Joseph apparently shot himself and died two days later at a nearby hospital.
“It’s hard to explain, but he wasn’t himself at all,” said Zecole, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’d say things like, ‘My boss doesn’t like me.’ His personality changed totally; he was horribly concerned about his work, to the point it was almost unbelievable. He was saying he couldn’t do anything right.”
The family says such a state of mind for the then-Uber engineer was unusual, since he was a very bright man who typically exuded confidence.
“He was always the smartest guy in the room,” his father, Joe Thomas, told the San Francisco Chronicle. But “he went down the tubes. He became someone with very little confidence in himself. The guy just fell apart.”
Joseph reportedly told his family that he was constantly scared he would be fired, and he felt intense amounts of pressure at work in general.
The $170,000 software engineering job was apparently so demanding and exhausting that family members urged him to go see a psychiatrist. They even advocated for quitting the job altogether, but for unknown reasons Joseph felt it wasn’t an option. He previously turned down an offer from Apple to go to Uber because he thought it was a young, promising company that had more upside.
“If you put a hard-driving person on unrealistic tasks, it puts them in failure mode,” said the elder Joe Thomas, adding that his son would describe Uber’s work policies in a way that elicits brainwashing. “It makes them burn themselves out; like driving a Lamborghini in first gear.”
Joseph reportedly revealed his stress to a close friend on Facebook’s messaging service.
“Man words can’t really describe. I’m not dead but I wouldn’t describe myself as ok,” Thomas allegedly wrote, according to screenshots provided by the 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.”
Two medical records from psychiatrists show that he reported “high anxiety” from his job, including panic attacks and insomnia.
Uber told the San Francisco Chronicle that Thomas never complained or at least notified the company of his extreme stress.
“No family should go through the unspeakable heartbreak the Thomas family has experienced. Our prayers and thoughts are with them,” an Uber spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation, who declined to comment further.
Zecole filed a workers’ compensation claim, but so far Uber denied it through its insurance carrier. The benefits could total $722,000 if the filing ends up successful, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. (RELATED: Former Lyft Driver Sues Uber For Allegedly Spying On Him Through ‘Hell’ Software)
“We think it was stress and harassment induced by his job, between him being one of the few African Americans there, working around the clock and the culture of Uber,” said San Francisco Attorney Richard Richardson. “And he couldn’t talk about it to anyone because of nondisclosure agreements.”
Uber’s workplace culture has been in the spotlight in the past months for unsavory and scandalous reasons.
Just days later, The New York Times spoke to more than 30 current and former employees and reported that Uber has been involved in a number of lewd and dangerous escapades, including booze-filled ragers, bosom-grabbing, consumption of illicit drugs and a joy-ride in a temporarily hijacked shuttle bus. (RELATED: Tim Cook Once Thought He Caught Uber Spying On iPhone Users. So He Called For A Meeting)
The workers also complained of an ultra competitive workplace environment where the only way to get ahead is to literally stage a coup on a direct supervisor.
After the reports of the alleged systemic sexism and cutthroat work culture at the company surfaced, Uber announced that it hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the accusations of sexual harassment, much to investors’ chagrin.
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