Things are never dull in Tesla-land. After we heard on Monday that Tesla’s Production line was sabotaged, today the automaker filed a lawsuit against Martin Tripp. The Gigafactory Process Engineer was accused of not only writing software that extracted data from Tesla’s Manufacturing Operating System which sent gigabytes of proprietary data to outside entities but also making false negative statements to the media.
CNBC first reported on the lawsuit which was brought against the employee who Tesla claims:
1. This suit arises from the misconduct of Martin Tripp (“Tripp”), a former employee of Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”) who unlawfully hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties.
2. 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. 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. 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.
4. Tripp also made false claims to the media about the information he stole. For example, 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. 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.
If true, the allegations would seem to be serious and damaging, though not quite the fossil fuel conspiracy theory some of us were thinking. At first glance, this appears to be a disgruntled worker who took out his frustrations on the company. It will be interesting to see what third parties were interested in the information he had to offer. Also, were there any other conspirators involved?
The incident is also a red flag for us in the media, with potential trust issues with employees (especially disgruntled ones that often talk to media) as sources to give us straight answers. Those who reported on the claims above probably should have gotten second or third sources before running with the story.
As for the damage caused by the so called saboteur, it is still uncertain if his actions caused any delays in the Model 3 production but it will be again be interesting to see what develops.
If you like reading legal docs, the background gives you more information on the situation:
Tripp joined Tesla in October 2017 at the Nevada Gigafactory as a process technician, a job which Tripp later complained was not a sufficiently senior role for him. As part of his job, Tripp had access to highly sensitive information relating to, among other things, certain facets of the manufacturing process for the company’s battery modules.
Before joining Tesla, and as a condition to his continuing employment, Tripp agreed not to use or disclose Tesla’s confidential and proprietary information except in connection with his work with Tesla. This obligation is memorialized in the Employee Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement that Tripp signed electronically on October 6, 2017 (the “Proprietary Information Agreement”). In addition to his contractual obligations, Tripp owed a duty of undivided loyalty to Tesla under Nevada law and was legally required to act with good faith towards the company.
Within a few months of Tripp joining Tesla, his managers identified Tripp as having problems with job performance and at times being disruptive and combative with his colleagues. As a result of these and other issues, on or about May 17, 2018, Tripp was assigned to a new role. Tripp expressed anger that he was reassigned.
Thereafter, Tripp retaliated against Tesla by stealing confidential and trade secret information and disclosing it to third parties, and by making false statements intended to harm the company. 14. On June 14 and 15, 2018, Tesla investigators interviewed Tripp regarding his misconduct. After Tripp initially stated that no misconduct had occurred, Tesla investigators confronted him with evidence to the contrary. At that point, Tripp admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s MOS and to transferring several gigabytes of confidential and proprietary Tesla data Case 2:18-cv-01088 Document 1 Filed 06/20/18 Page 3 of 13 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 – 3 – COMPLAINT 5336561 to entities outside the company. This included dozens of photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems.
During the interview, Tripp also admitted that he attempted to recruit additional sources inside the Gigafactory to share confidential Tesla data outside the company.
While its investigation is still in the early stages, Tesla has also discovered that Tripp authored hacking software and placed it onto the computer systems of three other individuals at the company so that confidential Tesla data could be persistently exported off its network from these other systems to unknown third parties.
Tripp also made false claims about the information he stole from Tesla. Tripp claimed that punctured battery cells had been used in some Model 3 customer vehicles even though the evidence clearly demonstrates that no punctured cells were ever used. Tripp also used the Tesla data that he exported to grossly overstate the true amount and value of “scrap” material that Tesla generated during the manufacturing process, and he falsely claimed that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online at the Gigafactory.
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 full lawsuit is available here as a PDF.