Just days after claiming it was sabotaged by a former employee, Tesla has filed suit in a federal court in Nevada alleging that Martin Tripp not only stole confidential information but also leaked false reports about Tesla quality problems to the media.
CEO Elon Musk first signaled there was a problem in an e-mail sent to Tesla employees on Sunday night warning that there had been “extensive and damaging sabotage” committed by an employee who was not initially identified. Musk also suggested that the trouble might have involved outsiders who “want Tesla to die.”
In the lawsuit, Tesla names Martin Tripp, who appears to have been working at the company’s Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. The court filing claims that Tripp “has thus far admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (‘MOS’) and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities.”
Tesla also claims in its lawsuit that Tripp installed software on the computers used by three other employees “so that the data would be exported even after he left the company and so that those individuals would be falsely implicated.”
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Exactly what material Tripp allegedly stole and whom he sent it to is unclear, though Tesla said it included “dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems.”
“Tripp claimed that punctured battery cells had been used in certain Model 3 vehicles even though no punctured cells were ever used in vehicles, batteries or otherwise,” the suit alleges. “Tripp also vastly exaggerated the true amount and value of ‘scrap’ material that Tesla generated during the manufacturing process, and falsely claimed that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online.”
Some of the “falsehoods” the former employee allegedly supplied to news organizations was published and, Tesla claims, damaged its reputation. No individual media outlets are named in the lawsuit, however.
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In his original e-mail, Musk also pointed to enemies of the company that might want to see Tesla damaged, a list that could include short-sellers hoping its stock will crash, as well as oil and gas companies and even rival automakers. He made reference to those “willing to cheat” on emissions, a comment that would seem to suggest several carmakers, notably including Volkswagen, the German manufacturer that has confirmed rigging about 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide to illegally pass emissions tests.
Tesla’s latest move has raised some eyebrows. The carmaker declined to respond when asked by TheDetroitBureau.com if it had alerted police or other authorities, such as the FBI, to the alleged sabotage. The Associated Press has since noted that local police in Sparks, Nevada, where Tripp lives, have no record of an ongoing investigation. The country sheriff did not respond and a regional spokesperson for the FBI said she would check into the matter.
First hired by Tesla in October 2017, the lawsuit claims Tripp was retaliating after being reassigned in his job. Musk previously indicated the employee involved in sabotage had been seeking a promotion. The CEO’s letter was sent to employees just as Tesla began reducing its workforce by 9%.
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Among other things, Tesla wants a gag order placed on Tripp, while seeking court permission to inspect his computers and other electronic devices and services as well as asking for monetary damages.