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Tesla sues ex-employee, accusing him of sabotage campaign

Tesla sues ex-employee, accusing him of sabotage campaign
Tesla is suing former employee Martin Tripp, who used to work at its Gigafactory in Nevada. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

Tesla Inc. is suing a former employee, accusing him of hacking the company’s confidential and trade-secret information and transferring several gigabytes to outside entities along with illicit photos of the production line.

The electric-auto maker accused Martin Tripp, a former technician at the Nevada Gigafactory, of launching a sabotage campaign after being denied a promotion. Tripp wrote a computer program to access proprietary information, sent material to three unidentified entities and tried to cover his electronic tracks, the company said in the complaint.

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Tripp’s actions were “willful and malicious” and “done with the deliberate intent to injure Tesla’s business,” said the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Nevada.

Tripp, who Tesla officials said lives in the Reno suburb of Sparks, Nev., couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. He didn’t have a lawyer listed in court filings.

Tesla is racing to ramp up production of its crucial Model 3 sedan to 5,000 cars a week.

Last week, Chief Executive Elon Musk announced that he was reorganizing the company and shrinking Tesla’s workforce by 9% in a bid for profitability. More than 3,000 workers lost their jobs, and notices filed with the state of California revealed that more than 500 employees in Fremont and Palo Alto were dismissed. Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant is in Fremont, and its main offices are in Palo Alto.

On Sunday, Musk wrote a memo to employees alleging there was a saboteur within the company’s ranks. The memo said Tesla was trying to figure out whether the employee had acted alone.

In Wednesday’s suit, Tesla said Tripp agreed not to disclose company secrets as part of his employment agreement. He violated that agreement and lied to the media about information he stole, Tesla said.

According to Tesla’s lawsuit, Tripp falsely claimed that punctured battery cells were used in certain Model 3s and exaggerated the amount and value of “scrap” material Tesla generated. He also lied that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online, the company said.

Tesla is asking a judge to stop Tripp and anyone working with him from disclosing or using any of the automaker’s secrets. It is also seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Tripp surreptitiously photographed and videotaped Tesla’s robot-laden production line, designed to produce lithium-ion batteries for its electric cars, according to the suit. The plant itself is powered by renewable energy sources.

Tesla officials said they interviewed Tripp this month about allegations he electronically broke into the company’s computers, and that the technician admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s operating systems. He also tried to frame coworkers, the company said.

“His hacking software was operating on three separate computer systems of other individuals at Tesla so that the data would be exported even after he left the company and so that those individuals would be falsely implicated as guilty parties,” Tesla’s lawsuit said.

11:25 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details.

This article was originally published at 9:15 a.m.

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