The battle between Benchmark Capital and Travis Kalanick just went nuclear, with the venture capital firm suing the former Uber CEO for fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, reports Axios. The complaint was filed yesterday in Delaware Chancery Court.
Key graph, per the suit: “Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, to entrench himself on Uber’s Board of Directors and increase his power over Uber for his own selfish ends. Kalanick’s overarching objective is to pack Uber’s Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny and clear the path for his eventual return as CEO—all to the detriment of Uber’s stockholders, employees, driver-partners, and customers.”
Why it matters: If Benchmark’s suit is successful, Kalanick would be kicked off Uber’s board of directors — thus eliminating any faint hopes of him returning to the company in a substantial role.
What to know: Benchmark was an early investor in Uber, and has a seat on its board of directors. It also helped spearhead the move to have Kalanick resign in June, and tensions between the two have contributed, in part, to the slow pace of finding a replacement. Oh, and venture capital firms don’t usually sue fellow board members of their single most valuable investment.
Complaint: The suit revolves around the June 2016 decision to expand the size of Uber’s board of voting directors from eight to 11, with Kalanick having the sole right to designate those seats. Kalanick would later name himself to one of those seats following his resignation, since his prior board seat was reserved for the company’s CEO. The other two seats remain unfilled. Benchmark argues that it never would have granted Kalanick those three extra seats had it known about his “gross mismanagement and other misconduct at Uber” — which Benchmark claims included “pervasive gender discrimination and sexual harassment,” and the existence of confidential findings (a.k.a. The Stroz Report) that recently-acquired self-driving startup Otto had “allegedly harbored trade secrets stolen from a competitor.” Benchmark argues that this alleged nondisclosure of material information invalidates Benchmark’s vote to enlarge the board.
Moreover, Benchmark alleges that Kalanick pledged in writing — as part of his resignation agreement — that the two empty board seats would be independent and subject to approval by the entire board (something Benchmark says was the reason it didn’t sue for fraud at the time). But, according to the complaint, Kalanick has not been willing to codify those changes via an amended voting agreement.
What Benchmark wants: An invalidation of the June 2016 stockholder vote and related actions, which would effectively eliminate the three board seats. And, in so doing, remove Kalanick from Uber’s board of directors. It also is asking the court for a preliminary injunction against Kalanick’s ongoing involvement in Uber board matters which, if granted, would remove him from the CEO search process.
Stakes: Per the complaint, Kalanick currently holds around a 10% equity stake in Uber, which most recently was valued at around $70 billion. Benchmark holds approximately 13 percent.
Comment from Kalanick’s side: “The lawsuit is completely without merit and riddled with lies and false allegations. This is continued evidence of Benchmark acting in its own best interests contrary to the interests of Uber, its employees and its other shareholders. Benchmark’s lawsuit is a transparent attempt to deprive Travis Kalanick of his rights as a founder and shareholder and to silence his voice regarding the management of the company he helped create. Travis will continue to act in the interests of Uber and all of its stakeholders and is confident that these entirely baseless claims will be rejected.” Axios was unable to reach benchmark.
Read the entire complaint:
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- Benchmark wants Kalanick removed as Uber-director.