Tesla's Employee Lawsuit Saga Grows Weirder by the Minute

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
teslas employee lawsuit saga grows weirder by the minute

Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears to be on the hunt for potential saboteurs and thieves. However, as the company doubles down on Model 3 assembly both inside its Fremont, California plant and the tent erected outside, a murky sideshow has emerged.

On Sunday night, Musk emailed employees to alert them to the actions of a saboteur caught hacking the automaker’s manufacturing operating system (MOS), cautioning them to be on the lookout for other nefarious deeds. The automaker then filed a lawsuit against process technician Martin Tripp, who Tesla alleges stole several gigabytes worth of data from the MOS and funnelled the info, which included photos, to shadowy third parties. Incorrect statements were also made to the media by the disgruntled employee, Tesla claims, and it’s now seeking its pound of flesh (as well as its data, plus punitive damages) via the suit.

Tripp’s now telling his side of the story. Oh, and there’s a workplace shooting threat to toss into the mix, too.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Tripp, who was fired last week, said he’s not a saboteur or a thief. Rather, the ex-employee says he’s a whistleblower who felt compelled to speak anonymously to the media after seeing “some really scary things.”

These scary things supposedly include battery packs with punctured cells being placed in “hundreds” of automobiles during the company’s rush to reach a promised production rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week by the end of June — a claim made to the media earlier this month. Tesla says this never occurred.

The allegations in Tesla’s lawsuit are incorrect, Tripp said, including the charge that he wrote code in order to draw the data from the automaker’s MOS. “I don’t have the patience for coding,” he told the Washington Post. He also refutes the allegation that he was combative with co-workers and decided to hack the company after becoming displeased with his low-tier position.

“That’s their generic excuse,” he said. “I could literally care less.”

It’s a case of he said/they said, and Tripp will get his day in court. On Thursday morning, however, the story took on an even strange twist.

Police were called to Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory, source of the Model 3’s batteries and Tripp’s former place of employment. A Tesla spokesperson told CNBC that a person claiming to be a friend of Tripp phoned the automaker on Wednesday afternoon, warning them that Tripp was “going to shoot the place up.”

The company called the authorities and beefed up security at the Gigafactory, Tesla claims. After an investigation, the Stoney County sheriff’s office found “no credible threat” against the building or its workers.

Tripp told Ars Technica that he made no such threat.

“Absolutely not!” he said. “The ONLY thing I have said to any ‘friends’ is I sent a link to the CNBC article to five of them and asked if they really thought I was a hacker.”

Tripp provided Ars with a June 20th email exchange that took place after Tesla filed the lawsuit. In it, Tripp wrote to Musk, claiming, “Don’t worry, you have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.” Musk took this as a direct threat; Tripp said it wasn’t. Just a karma kind of thing.

Musk then wrote that Tripp should feel ashamed of himself for “framing other people,” calling him “a horrible human being.” In response, Tripp denied he framed anyone (the lawsuit claims he installed his hacking software in three other computers to avoid detection), accusing Tesla, again, of unsafe practices and exorbitant waste at its assembly plants.

In his conversation with Ars, Tripp said he raised these concerns both with his manager and his HR rep, only to receive the brush-off.

The saga continues.

[Image: Elon Musk/ Twitter]

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  • Eliyahu Eliyahu on Jun 21, 2018

    Manufacturing complex products is perhaps not rocket science, but it still requires the coordination of many activities. It is fair to question, like the financial press, whether there is any realistic possibility of meeting the announced production goals. Without any pretense of actually gathering further information, my bet is a resounding NO. Musk may need diversions as much as el Presidente. Maybe a few more cars put into orbit?

  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Jun 22, 2018

    What kind of moron goes and talks to the media when he's in the middle of a lawsuit? I agree the punctured cell story sounds like BS, mainly because it's very difficult to puncture a steel-can cylindrical LiIon cell. Doing so would most likely not cause a fire however; it would cause electrolyte leakage and moisture ingress which would make the cell fail in a benign way. All cells much pass a much more severe nail penetration test without smoke or fire in order to receive agency certification.

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
  • RHD Inexpensive gasoline appears to be a thing of the past. ILO is correct - we have enough sunlight, wind and emerging ocean wave energy to power the entire country and then some. Clean air is nice, and being free of the whims of OPEC, geopolitics and hugely profitable oil companies will do all of us a world of good.
  • Raymond Segura Can you tell me where I can get the rear bumper for 69 impala?
  • Art Vandelay some of the crazy numbers I get. Percentages look bigger with any fluctuations with low volume makes and brands leaving the market will see massive month over month changes. But what’s with Buick? I still see the occasional ad on TV and yet the drop is disproportionate even compared to all the other GM brands.
  • Master Baiter "There is no mandate for consumers to buy EVs, not in any country or state. That’s made up."Right. And you are not mandated to purchase a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons/flush. You could choose to not have a toilet--just go in the woods, like the bears do.
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