Black Uber Engineer Commits Suicide And Family Believes It Was Due to Company Culture
There are countless articles, panels and organizations constantly calling for more diversity in Silicon Valley’s tech industry.
Whether you’re a computer coder, an engineer or without any technology experience at all, there are a plethora of opportunities to work for today’s major tech companies. But does working for a household name with a generous salary come at a cost? One family believes it does.
“It’s hard to explain. But he wasn’t himself at all. 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.”
Joseph Thomas was a 33-year-old Uber engineer who worked his way up in the tech industry. He began his career at tech companies in Atlanta and then moved to LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter, he had offers from Uber and Apple. Thomas made the decision to work at Uber as an engineer. The perks included a stock package that would set his family up nicely in the long run when the company went public and a $170, 000 yearly salary. It looked like Thomas, a married father of two had it all, but Uber’s company culture began to eat away at him.
His wife, Zecole Thomas, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It’s hard to explain. But he wasn’t himself at all. 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.”
“He became someone with very little confidence in himself. The guy just felt apart.”
According to Thomas’ family, he had an unrelenting fear of being fired. He was dealing with so much pressure and stress to the point where his family found him a psychiatrist and a doctor with whom he spoke to about panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and anxiety.
“He was always the smartest guy in the room,” said Thomas’ father, Joe Thomas. He says working at Uber caused his son to “down the tubes. He became someone with very little confidence in himself. The guy just felt apart.”
In the elder Thomas’ opinion, Uber brainwashed his son.
“If you put a hard-driving person on unrealistic tasks, it puts them in failure mode,” said Thomas.
“It makes them burn themselves out; like driving a Lamborghini in first gear.”
Only four months into working at Uber, Thomas wrote to a friend on Facebook, saying, “Words can’t really describe. I’m not dead but I wouldn’t describe myself as okay.”
A month later, Thomas’ wife found him sitting in his car covered in blood after she returned home from taking their two children to school. Thomas had shot himself. He died one week before his 34th birthday.
Thomas’ family applied for worker’s compensation after his death and used the psychiatrist’s testimony to support their claim. Uber denied them benefits through their insurance carrier.
The family has hired a lawyer, Richard Richardson, and he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “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.”
The case is still in its early stages, but if the family wins, they’ll receive a benefit of $722, 000.
Zecole currently resides in North Carolina with her two kids. She’s working as a project coordinator and is pursuing a master’s in analytics and cyber security.
Uber’s company culture has been called to task several times. It’s been described as a culture of harassment, bullying, disrespect and lacking diversity. It’s possible Uber may not be the only company in Silicon Valley like this, but clearly things need to change–fast.