After cryptically saying in an email over the weekend that Tesla had been sabotaged by a recently-fired employee, the automaker sued a former technician on Tuesday, alleging he stole reams of confidential data and made false claims to news outlets.
Tesla logo on a Model 3Photo: Raphael Orlove (Jalopnik)
In a bizarre email sent out on Sunday, Elon Musk apparently claimed a Tesla employee sabotaged the company’s manufacturing operations and leaked sensitive information to third parties.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in US federal court, Tesla accused Martin Tripp, a former technician at its Gigafactory in Nevada, of unlawfully hacking into “the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties.”
“Tesla has only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity, but he 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,” the lawsuit, which you can read below, says.
“This includes dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems. 3. Beyond the misconduct to which Tripp admitted, he also wrote computer code to periodically export Tesla’s data off its network and into the hands of third parties.”
Tripp also allegedly made false claims to the media about information he stole.
A Tesla spokesperson said the automaker had no additional comment. Tripp couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
As one example of Tripp’s alleged false statements to news outlets, Tesla alleged he “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.”
“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,” the lawsuit alleges.
A story published earlier this month by Business Insider, based on internal documents and an anonymous “employee familiar with the matter,” said that Tesla scrap at the Gigafactory had cost the automaker $US150 ($204) million.
The story reported claims from the anonymous employee that mirror Tesla’s allegations in the suit, particularly:
A specific example for you: In February, a misprogrammed robot that handles battery modules repeatedly punctured through the plastic housing (called a clamshell) and into some battery cells, the employee said, adding that instead of scrapping all the modules, some were fixed with adhesive and put back on the manufacturing line. According to internal documents Business Insider reviewed, this foible affected more than 1000 pieces.
It’s unclear if Tripp was the source for Business Insider’s story. Further, it wasn’t immediately known if Tripp was the alleged saboteur highlighted in a Sunday companywide email from Musk, but the CEO’s claims are nearly identical to what’s alleged in the suit.
In a lengthy memo, Musk said he was “dismayed to learn” that a Tesla employee “had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations.”
“This included making direct code changes to the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties,” Musk wrote.
Tesla alleges in the suit that Trip, within a few months of joining the company, had job performance issues and, at times, became combative with colleagues. In May, the suit says, Tripp was assigned a new role, and he allegedly “expressed anger” about the move.
It’s then, the suit alleges, that Tripp “retaliated” by stealing confidential records and trade secret information, before transferring “several gigabytes” of data to outside entities. Tesla says that package includes “dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems.”
Tesla says that Tripp had been interviewed by investigators and admitted to “writing software that hacked Tesla’s MOS and to transferring several gigabytes of confidential and proprietary Tesla data to entities outside the company.”
“Although Tesla’s investigation is ongoing, it has already suffered significant and continuing damages as a result of Tripp’s misconduct, which it seeks to recover through this action,” the suit says.
The lawsuit lays out alleged violations of trade secret laws, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty of loyalty, and asks for compensatory damages in an amount later to be determined at trial.