A federal judge rejected Uber Technologies Inc's bid that it not be required to disclose emails from Chief Executive Travis Kalanick in a California lawsuit accusing the popular ride-booking service of deceiving customers about how it shares tips with drivers.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen's order in San Francisco was the latest setback for Uber, which has drawn criticism around the globe over whether its service complies with local licensing and safety laws and whether its drivers have been adequately vetted.
Chen said a Nov. 26 ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu that the plaintiff in the lawsuit can receive emails from Kalanick and global operations chief Ryan Graves about Uber's tipping practices was neither "clearly erroneous" nor legally wrong.
"That Judge Ryu's order may require defendant to review approximately 21,000 documents does not represent an improper burden given the potential role of defendant's CEO and vice president of operations in defendant's challenged conduct," Chen wrote in an order issued Wednesday night.
The emails are to be turned over by Jan. 23, court records show.
Jacie Zolna, an attorney for plaintiff Caren Ehret, an Uber customer from Illinois, on Friday said his client looks forward to reviewing "this clearly relevant information."
Uber spokeswoman Kristin Carvell declined to comment.
The Jan. 8, 2014 lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, accuses Uber of falsely advertising that a 20 percent gratuity on fares is "automatically added for the driver," when the San company instead retains a "substantial portion" for itself.
Ehret said this caused her and other customers to overpay, amounting to breach of contract and violating California consumer protection laws. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Uber contended that Ehret did not need the emails she sought and that other evidence, including that from general managers in cities where the San Francisco-based company operates, would offer a "complete understanding" of its tipping practices.
Last week, authorities in South Korea indicted Kalanick on charges he violated local licensing laws. Uber said it believed its service was legal in that country.
Some cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin, New Delhi and Portland, Oregon have banned or sought to ban Uber services.
Founded in 2009, Uber now operates in about 250 cities on six continents. It obtained financing last month that valued the privately held company at roughly $40 billion.
The case is Ehret vs. Uber Technologies Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-00113.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)