Feb 26, 2015 · 2 minutes

Among the many themes at our 24-hour Don't Be Awful event was that no company is 100 percent "good" or 100 percent "bad."

Take Uber. The transportation platform, under the leadership of Randian fratboy Travis Kalanick, has done plenty of awful things, from recklessly abusing its location tracking technology to promoting a sexist corporate culture to aspiring to smear unfriendly journalists like Pando's own Sarah Lacy.

But to be frank the company also does some good. For example, Uber has made a strong push to hire US military veterans, promising to hire 50,000 veteran drivers over the next year or so. And while the question of whether an Uber driver's takehome pay is enough to support oneself is far from resolved, the company deserves credit for aiming to help veterans -- particularly post-9/11 veterans for whom the unemployment rate is considerably higher than that of non-veterans. Earlier this month, Uber told Mashable that 10,000 Uber drivers with military backgrounds had earned a total of $18 million since launching the initiative.

But Uber's commitment to veterans was called into question today after the Verge reported that Santander Consumer USA, the preferred auto lender through which Uber funnels non-qualified drivers, had agreed to pay over $9 million to settle claims that it had illegal repossessed 1,100 vehicles belonging to US servicemen and women.

"According to the US Department of Justice," the Verge's Avi Asher-Schapiro writes, "Santander violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a consumer protection statute that forces lenders to seek court approval before repossessing assets of active duty soldiers."

As with many controversies related to Uber, the initial reflex for some observers to give the company the benefit of the doubt. For example, say an assault is committed by a driver who passed a background check and whatever other due diligence procedures were conducted by Uber. The company certainly has responsibility to do what it can to prevent such crimes in the future. But it's not the company's "fault," per se.

This situation, however, may reflect more poorly on Uber. Santander was already under investigation by the US Justice Department as part of a crackdown on subprime auto lenders when the partnership between the two corporations was announced. Even if Uber was unaware of the lender's illegal military repossessions, it should still be held responsible for working so closely with an organization under investigation for possible general predatory lending practices.

Uber's ties to the US military have only become stronger over the past few months. Last September, President Obama's former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joined Uber as a chairman of UberMILITARY. And why wouldn't Uber want to associate itself with the military? Tech companies like Google have found military contracts to be an enormous source of revenue, and it's not difficult to imagine how Uber's software platform, location technology, and self-driving car ambitions could aid the US military in whatever activities -- nefarious or otherwise -- it engages in around the world.

But judgement in this case should be reserved until Uber has a chance to respond. If it doesn't address the allegations facing Santander, this partnership could follow the same script as so many other initiatives the military touches -- great for private enterprise and PR, but bad for veterans. Given Uber's year-long struggle with public relations, that's the last thing the company needs now.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]