Uber's investigation into its workplace environment appears to be even more convoluted and less independent than originally thought, based on remarks made by board member Arianna Huffington in a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

The investigation was announced in February following an explosive account by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler that alleged an environment rife with sexism and sexual harassment. In response, CEO Travis Kalanick said an investigation would be conducted to look into Uber's workplace. Kalanick said the investigation would be led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and attorney Tammy Albarran, partners at the Covington & Burling law firm.

"Joining them will be Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber's board," Kalanick wrote in a February memo announcing the investigation to his employees.

Huffington's role in the investigation, however, appears to have changed.

"I am not conducting the investigation," Huffington said on the call Tuesday.

The former editor in chief of The Huffington Post explained that the investigation is being run by Holder and Albarran's team. Huffington said the lawyers are speaking with employees and that employees are encouraged to contact the investigation team through an anonymous tip line.

"That report will be completely thorough, completely independent, and presented to a subcommittee of the board that Bill Gurley, David Bonderman, and I sit on," Huffington said. "The committee that Holder is leading will report to the subcommittee, not to management."

This apparent finessing of Huffington's role comes after Huffington's independence and history as a company leader came into question. In February, Inc. reported instances when sexual harassment was allegedly tolerated and covered up during Huffington's time at her publication. Additionally, her involvement drew criticism from notable investors Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, who questioned how a board member of Uber could independently investigate her company.

Despite saying that she is not involved with the investigation -- which is expected to be completed and reported to the public by the end of April -- Huffington on Tuesday suggested she has visibility into the direction of the investigation so far.

She indicated as much after reporters asked about Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's job security. At first, Huffington responded that the board was confident in Kalanick and had no plans to replace him. Later, when asked if the situation would change should the investigation find evidence of wrongdoing on Kalanick's part, Huffington responded by saying, "It's the same answer. It's not something that's been addressed because it hasn't come up, and we don't expect it to come up."

Earlier in the week, Huffington seemed to imply she was actively involved with the investigation, telling CNN that she has spoken with hundreds of women who work at Uber and reached her own conclusions based on those conversations.

"Yes, there were some bad apples, unquestionably. But this is not a systemic problem," Huffington told CNN. "What is important is that the structures that were not in place are now being put in place to make sure that women, minorities, everyone, feels completely comfortable at Uber."

On the Tuesday call, Huffington refuted the statement, saying CNN had reported the comments out of context.

"The ultimate decision of what is or isn't a systemic problem will be borne out by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran's investigation," Huffington said. "Whatever that investigation finds will be honored by Uber. Everybody -- Travis, the board, management -- have made it clear that whatever the results of the investigation will be honored and they will help us create a completely equitable workplace where there is zero tolerance for both sexual harassment and sexists."

Uber did not respond to a request for comment clarifying Huffington's role in the investigation.

[Update: Following publication of this story, Uber offered this clarification: "Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran are conducting the investigation in cooperation with Liane Hornsey and Angela Padilla. The results of the investigation will be reported into the subcommittee on the board, of which Arianna is a member. That committee will ensure the company implements the investigation's recommendations as part of the larger review of Uber's culture."]

Published on: Mar 21, 2017