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Ex-Uber engineer who blogged about alleged discrimination lawyers up

The Uber app is shown as cars drive by in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2015. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

By Meg Wagner

Two law firms against one

The former Uber employee who wrote a viral blog post accusing the company of discrimination and sexual harassment has now obtained legal council and claims the ride-hailing service is blaming her for dwindling business.

Susan Foweler Rigetti, whose Feb. 19 blog post inspired another wave of the #DeleteUber campaign — just weeks after protesters began ditching the service amid allegations it tried to profit off anti-Donald Trump protests — claimed that her former employer is probing her.

“Uber names/blames me for account deletes, and has a different law firm — not Holders — investigating me,” she tweeted Thursday, referencing the law firm of former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is reportedly investigating the company at its request. She noted that she has hired the California law firm Baker, Curtis & Schwartz.

Holder and his law firm were hired to lead an independent investigation into diversity and inclusion issues inside the tech company.

Uber said in a statement that it has hired the second law firm, Perkins Coie, to lead the investigations into Rigetti’s allegations.

“They will report into Eric Holder, who is responsible for the overall investigation into Uber’s workplace practices,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement. “To be clear: they are investigating Susan’s claims, not Susan personally.”

Back-to-back scandals

Rigetti joined Uber as an engineer in November 2015. Within weeks of starting the job, her manager made aggressive sexual advances toward her, she claimed in her blog post, “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber.”

She alleged that HR refused to punish the male manager because he was a high-performing employee. Over the course of the year, she says other managers threatened her for reporting alleged workplace discrimination — and many of them forewent punishment, too, thanks to their records of good work, she claimed.

The blog post sparked yet another wave of criticism against Uber. Users tweeted that they were deleting their accounts because of the allegations, using the hashtag #DeleteUber on Twitter to share her post.

Uber was still reeling from the first #DeleteUber protest, staged just a few weeks earlier amid demonstrations over Trump’s executive order barring migrants from seven mostly Muslim nations from entering the U.S.

On Jan. 29, a day after Trump signed the order, protesters flocked to New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport and others across the country — where some travelers from the targeted countries had been detained — to rally against the ban.

During the protest, a New York City taxi union refused to pick up passengers from JFK in a show of solidarity with immigrants. Shortly after the taxis stopped running, Uber turned off its “surge pricing” feature — which many critics took as a sign that the company was trying to get more business during the taxi strike. The fact that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sat on Trump’s economic advisory board at the time only added to the fury.

A drop in downloads, and another gaffe

While Rigetti now has a law firm on her side, it’s unclear if she’s taking any legal action against her former employer, or if Uber is planning a suit against her. Her new lawyers did not immediately return a request for comment.

Even without possible pending lawsuits, Uber’s business appears to be suffering. After the first #DeleteUber campaign in January, its chief ride-hailing competitor, Lyft, surpassed Uber in downloads for the first time ever.

Uber has not said how many people have deleted the app or detailed its revenue since the dual scandals. However, in the days after the airport protest, so many people demanded their accounts be deactivated that the tech company set up an automated deletion process to keep up with the high volumes of requests.

Meanwhile, Uber appears to be doing damage control. On Feb. 2, Kalanick announced he was stepping down from Trump’s board.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” he said.

But Kalanick didn’t stay out of hot water for long: video surfaced on Tuesday showing him arguing with a driver over falling fares.

“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me — and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” he wrote in a mea culpa letter to his company.