SAN FRANCISCO -- Tesla Inc. sued a former employee for hacking the electric-car maker’s confidential and trade secret information, transferring several gigabytes to outside entities along with illicit photos of the production line.
The company accused a former technician at its battery gigafactory in Nevada of launching a sabotage campaign after being denied a promotion. Martin Tripp wrote a computer program to access proprietary information, sending material to three unidentified entities and attempting to cover his electronic tracks, Tesla said in the complaint.
Tripp’s actions were “willful and malicious” and “done with the deliberate intent to injure Tesla’s business,” the company’s lawyers said in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in Nevada.
"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," the lawsuit said.
"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."
Tesla has been racing to ramp up production of its critical Model 3 sedan to 5,000 cars a week. Last week, CEO Elon Musk shrank the company’s workforce by 9 percent in a bid for profitability. More than 3,000 workers will lose their jobs, and notices filed with the state of California revealed that more than 500 employees in Fremont and Palo Alto were dismissed.
On Sunday, Musk wrote a memo to employees alleging there was a saboteur within the company’s ranks. CNBC reported the memo in full, while Bloomberg News confirmed with a worker that it had been sent out. Musk said in the memo that the company was still trying to figure out if the employee had acted alone.
In Wednesday’s suit, Tesla said Tripp of Sparks, Nev., agreed not to disclose company secrets as part of his employment agreement. He violated that pact and lied to the media about the information he stole, Tesla said.
Tripp falsely claimed that punctured battery cells were used in certain Model 3s and exaggerated the amount and value of “scrap” material Tesla generated, the company said. 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 carmakers’ secrets. The company 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 earlier this month about allegations he electronically broke into the company’s computers and the technician admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s operating systems. He also attempted 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 said.
The case is Tesla Inc. v. Tripp, No. 18-cv-1088, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada.
Reuters contributed to this report.