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A high stakes legal battle between Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick and one of the ride-hailing company’s largest investors will now be fought behind closed doors.
A Delaware judge on Wednesday told Uber investor Benchmark that its dispute with fellow Uber board member and former CEO Kalanick should be handled in private arbitration.
It’s a victory for Kalanick, who had requested that the court put the lawsuit on hold while an arbitrator considers the case.
But given the acrimony and the stakes involved – Uber is the world’s most valuable tech startup with a $69 billion valuation – the drama is far from over.
Benchmark filed the suit claiming Kalanick should be made to turn over two unfilled board seat he controls after the board gave him permission in 2016 to add more board members.
He was still CEO at the time. Benchmark said it thought Kalanick was trying to get himself reinstated as CEO. It also sought to get Kalanick removed from the board.
The court of public opinion
With the dispute in private arbitration, the fight over these seats will no longer be public. Still, it doesn’t sound as if Benchmark is giving up the fight, private arbitration or not.
A spokesperson tells us:
“We look forward to presenting the facts as the case proceeds. This case is fundamentally a question of integrity and values and the facts will fully support Benchmark’s position.”
Kalanick isn’t giving up the fight either. His spokesperson sent us this statement:
“Mr. Kalanick is pleased that the court has ruled in his favor today and remains confident that he will prevail in the arbitration process. Benchmark’s false allegations are wholly without merit and have unnecessarily harmed Uber and its shareholders.”
One Uber investor, Shervin Pishevar, who weighed in on the lawsuit in support of Kalanick, also cheered the judge’s decision. Pishevar characterized Benchmark’s suit as trying “to vilify Travis Kalanick in the court of public opinion.”
Kalanick already has a rough reputation in the court of public opinion after Uber was rocked with so many scandals under his leadership that investors, led by Benchmark, forced him to resign from the CEO role in June. Those scandals also led to the exodus of many other top Uber execs.
Kalanick still owns about 10% of the company, including so-called “super-voting shares” that give him about 16% of the voting rights of Uber.
In the meantime, Uber’s board unanimously voted to appoint Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as its new CEO. Khosrowshahi accepted the job offer on Tuesday and he will now set about hiring new execs and trying to mend fences with Kalanick and the rest of the board.
Uber declined to comment.