PORTLAND, Maine — In January, an employee at ride-sharing giant Uber set his sights on Portland attorney Andrew Schmidt and his client, Spencer Meyer.
“I have a sensitive, very under the radar investigation that I need on an individual here in the U.S.,” Mat Henley, Uber’s director of security, wrote in an email to corporate research firm Ergo, headed by a former CIA officer.
The chain of emails unfurled previous claims attorneys for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick didn’t know about the investigations into Meyer, who sued him personally in December, alleging violations of antitrust law in a potential class action.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York attempts to put Uber in a legal bind, arguing that if its employees are all independent contractors, then they should have more freedom to set their own prices.
Emails produced in the case since have indicated that Uber attorneys knew about the investigations, and that investigators allegedly obtained information from friends and associates of Meyer and his Portland-based attorney, Schmidt, by pretending to work on projects profiling up-and-coming lawyers and conservationists.
Meyer’s legal team is now asking the judge in the case to sanction Uber and prevent it from using any of Ergo’s findings in the case. It also is seeking class certification.
“Without sanctions, this conduct would set a dangerous precedent: consumer class action plaintiffs need to be concerned about investigators reaching out and lying to their friends,” Meyer’s attorneys wrote in a July 1 motion.
Uber has redacted its response to the motion, but it outlines its contention that the investigation came in response to a security concern about Uber’s CEO, that there were miscommunications during the process and that Meyer’s attorneys have not shown cause for sanctions.
Meyer’s attorneys contest the assertion that the investigation moved ahead out of concern for Kalanick’s safety, citing an email chain initiating the investigation that called for “an initial ‘light-touch’ reputational due diligence … that should highlight any issues for further digging such as participating in any past lawsuits (particularly with Andrew Schmidt), and [Meyer’s] relationship with Andrew Schmidt.”
Emails from Ergo Managing Partner Todd Egeland indicated the research would focus in part on the relationship between Schmidt and Meyer because “they outwardly appear to be at least college, if not lifelong, friends.”
Egeland retired from a job as the CIA’s chief strategy officer in 2008, according to a Bloomberg profile of Ergo’s parent company, Global Precision Research LLC.
Schmidt, who led the lawsuit at the time of its filing, declined to comment on the case when reached by phone Monday.
In a response filed Friday, Ergo’s attorneys denied that the company and Ergo’s analyst acted in bad faith during the investigation.
“Ergo’s research analyst used false pretenses to initiate conversations with third parties — a decision that, in this context, he regrets and would not repeat — but there is nothing inherently wrong or unlawful with such conduct,” its response stated.
For the central claims, the case has a few other hurdles ahead. Earlier this month, the court approved joining Uber as a defendant in the case and filed a motion to move the claims to arbitration, per the company’s terms of service.
A New York Times series last fall documented the rise of individual arbitration clauses in contracts for everything from cellphone plans to credit cards and online shopping, which it reported can be a method to derail class action lawsuits.
In response to Uber’s motion to compel arbitration, Meyer wrote in late June that he did not read any terms and conditions when signing up for Uber’s smartphone app and “was not aware of any arbitration provision in the terms and conditions and never agreed to one.”
The court scheduled oral arguments for July 14 on the motions related to the sanctions and the motions to move the case to individual arbitration.