Former Tesla Battery Factory Employee Allegedly Threatened to ‘Shoot the Place Up’
The former factory worker is being sued for sabotage and stealing trade secrets, and he reportedly set up software to frame his co-workers after he left the company.
Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee of its battery factory. On Wednesday, documents were filed with the federal court of Nevada alleging that he stole company trade secrets and sabotaged its manufacturing plant. Now Tesla says a friend of the former factory worker called to warn the company of a threat to "shoot the place up."
This news comes after a leaked memo made its rounds across the internet earlier this week with claims that a disgruntled employee had purposefully programmed Tesla's manufacturing line with the malicious intent of stymieing production. We now know that the alleged employee, Martin Tripp, is being accused of much more than previously thought.
According to the lawsuit, Tripp joined the company in October 2017 and quickly became upset over his position not holding enough seniority, something which managers identified as being disruptive and caused the employee to be "combative." As a result, Tripp was reassigned to a different role and expressed anger towards the company.
The lawsuit continues by stating that Tripp retaliated against Tesla using several different means, one of which was writing a piece of software to hack Tesla's Manufacturing Operating System (MOS), specifically used to extract sensitive data. An ongoing investigation is still uncovering the full extent of the damages, but preliminary information reported in the filing states that Tesla believes the software had scraped gigabytes of data.
Telsa states that Tripp slandered the company, including making false claims revolving around the value of scrap materials generated during Model 3 production, which, according to Tesla, have been exaggerated by more than a factor or two. When probed about the source of the scrap material data, Tripp allegedly admitted to guessing the number he reported to the media. The lawsuit also alleges that Tripp told media outlets that Tesla's newest sedan, the Model 3, was being shipped with punctured battery packs. Tesla refuted this claim by stating that a small number of battery packs were punctured by a robot in February of 2018 and have since been disposed of. Though no media outlet in particular was named as being Tripp's primary outlet of communication, it appears that the lawsuit is referencing an article written for Business Insider which slams Tesla over the production of its automobiles.
But it wasn't just the sabotage to Tesla's production line and fake news stories that concerned the automaker. The employee had also leaked confidential trade secrets, including photos and video of the company's manufacturing line, to unknown third parties. The software implemented by Tripp would routinely send collected sensitive information to third parties alongside the information gleaned directly from the photos and videos that Tripp took. At this time, it's not clear exactly what data was leaked, nor who received it.
After being confronted with evidence, Tripp reportedly admitted his wrongdoing to Tesla. He also confessed that he attempted to recruit others within the Gigafactory to join him. Musk Tweeted about there being "more" sabotage, but it is unclear if he was referring to Tripp's actions or someone else's.
Tripp has also been accused of making his exploit redundant, placing it on at least three separate internal workstations so that this espionage would continue even after he left the company. Tesla believes that this was also intended to implicate others as guilty parties, deferring blame on Tripp in case his actions were exposed.
Tesla is taking the matter very seriously from a civil standpoint, hiring John Hueston, the lead prosecution attorney for the infamous Enron scandal, to take on the case. At this time, there are no pending criminal charges against Tripp, but Tesla believes that the ex-employee may be a potential threat to safety. After receiving notification of a threat, Tesla notified police and increased its security presence at the Nevada facility.
“Yesterday afternoon, we received a phone call from a friend of Mr. Tripp telling us that Mr. Tripp would be coming to the Gigafactory to ‘shoot the place up.’" A Tesla spokesperson told The Drive, "Police have been notified and actions are being taken to enhance security at the Gigafactory.”
The Storey County Sherrif's department confirmed to The Drive that police did investigate the threat and did not deem it to be credible at the time of the incident. Police confirmed that an investigation is still ongoing and declined to provide more information to protect the integrity of the investigative process.
For companies like Tesla that are consistently under the microscope of the public eye, negative press can easily hurt sales. According to the lawsuit, this is one of the reasons why the automaker is seeking an unspecified sum of reimbursement from Tripp. Another reason is the loss of its sensitive proprietary data. As electric and semi-autonomous cars are rapidly increasing in popularity, the technology held by Tesla could be highly sought-after by competitors, raising the question of just where Tripp's illicitly obtained data were sent.