BERLIN — A top Volkswagen AG engineer who was interviewed by U.S. authorities about the diesel emissions-rigging scandal has no idea why the carmaker fired him, his attorney told a German judge.
The man, who can only be identified as Joern K. because of German press laws, headed the company's diesel-engine development, and VW still needs to explain the reasons for the dismissal, his attorney, Ulrich Weber, said Monday. The manager didn't work on the EA 189 engine model, which is at the center of the scandal. Instead, he was working on the model that followed, Weber said.
"They fired the wrong guy, it's as simple at that," the lawyer said at a hearing in Braunschweig, the city where all labor court disputes involving VW's headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg are heard. "Why they want to get rid of him remains opaque."
Joern K, 52, was among a group of managers fired in August, a month following the company gaining access to German prosecutors' files. It had been three years since the carmaker was found to have rigged vehicle software to cheat on emissions tests. Among the employees dismissed was Heinz-Jakob Neusser, VW's former head of engine development who has been charged in the U.S. over his role in the scandal. Neusser and others are also suing in the labor court to win their jobs back.
Weber said nothing in the prosecutors' files incriminates his client, and that despite his questioning by the U.S. Justice Department, no charges were filed in the U.S. and he expects his client won't be charged in Germany.
VW expects managers to flag any wrongdoing of others they become aware of as part of its stringent compliance rules, Volker Fuchs, an in-house counsel for the carmaker told the court. The company will specify the reasons that prompted Joern K.'s dismissal in a filing in the coming weeks. Labor representatives at VW have backed the dismissal.
Joern K. was suspended as early as November 2015, just weeks after the scandal broke. He continued to get his salary of as much as 492,000 euros ($560,000) a year until he was formally fired on August 17. He had been with VW group since 1995.
Lawyers, including those from Freshfields, the law firm that represents VW also in this suit, questioned Joern K. many times during VW's internal investigation, Weber, his attorney, said. He fully cooperated as he did when he was interviewed by the DoJ and the FBI, according to Weber.
Volkswagen has struggled to explain the origins of the cheating, and few employees have been held accountable in a scandal that has forced the company to set aside than 27 billion euros ($30.7 billion) so far. German labor law has generally strict rules about how and when a company can fire people. The rules are often at odds with what U.S. regulators demand from companies when they settle probes. When Commerzbank AG fired four employees in 2016 on the request of a New York regulator, all of them sued and won back their jobs.
The court scheduled a new hearing for March 11. VW has until the beginning of December to tell the court why it fired the engineer.