Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
June 21, 2018

Martin Tripp – Tesla Saboteur or Life-Saving Whistleblower?

In the wake of last week’s spontaneous Tesla fire on LA’s Santa Monica Boulevard, media is humming around conflict between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and ex-Tesla employee Martin Tripp.

On Wednesday, electric car manufacturer Tesla filed suit in Nevada Court against Tripp, claiming that, in an act of vengeful sabotage for a promotion denial, Tripp hacked company computers, swiped sensitive data, and spread false, defamatory information to the media.

But former technician Martin Tripp (40) claims he’s simply a whistleblower under retaliatory attack by Tesla for speaking out about alleged dangerous manufacturing practices.

Tesla Argues Tripp Angry Over Job Reassignment

According to Tesla’s lawsuit against Tripp, Tesla alledges the former Nevada Gigafactory battery plant technician wrote software to help steal video and photos depicting Tesla manufacturing procedures.

Tesla also accuses Tripp of defamation, saying he gave the media false information that the company was installing punctured batteries in its Model 3 sedans.

“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,” the lawsuit states.

Tesla claims that Tripp’s actions caused Tesla to lose business and profits and suffer “damage to its goodwill.”

On Sunday, Elon Musk sent out a company-wide email stating:

“I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations.”

Musk goes on to say, “His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move.”

Finally, Musk warns, “Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.

Last week, internal Tesla investigators presented Tripp with evidence of his alleged misconduct and requested a court order to inspectTripp’s computers, USB drives, phone messages and emails.

Tesla’s lawsuit claims that Tripp received reassignment to a new position in May for job performance problems and his “tendency to be combative and disruptive towards his colleagues.”

When questioned about Tripp’s involvement in the alleged sabotage, Musk tweeted:

“There is more, but the actions of a few bad apples will not stop Tesla from reaching its goals. With 40,000 people, the worst 1 in 1000 will have issues. That’s still ~40 people.”

Tripp Claims Tesla Installed Defective Car Batteries, Misled Investors

Earlier this month, Tripp told Business Insider that Tesla was using up to 40% of refurbished or scrapped, nonconforming raw materials to create its Model 3 cars. He also claims he discovered 1,100 defective Model 3 battery packs installed on Tesla’s compact electric cars, knowledge that prompted him to contact the media.

Tripp also alleges that, under pressure from investors, Tesla exaggerated the number of Model 3’s produced during the first quarter, from an actual 1,900 to Tesla’s reported 2,020.

Tripp’s assertions are still unverified.

CNN says Tripp denies hacking Tesla computer systems and is “being singled out for being a whistleblower.”

According to the Washington Post, Musk sent a personal email to Tripp, calling him a “horrible human being.” Tripp responded, “Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!

As far as Tesla’s claim that Tripp is angry about his job reassignment, Tripp told the LA Times, “That’s their generic excuse. I could literally care less.”

Tripp told The Washington Postthat he “looked up to” Elon and Tesla, moving his family to Nevada in October to help Tesla “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” But after starting his new job, he claims he was disappointed – and scared.

“I wanted to leave the world better for my son,” Tripp said. “And I felt I was doing everything but that.”

Tripp says Tesla human resources fired him over the phone on Tuesday.

A full reading of the emails between Musk and Harwell may provide the context for Musk’s reaction and the reason for his anger:

Tesla Severance Agreement Dissuades Whistleblowing

According to Bloomberg, Tesla has proposed a severance agreement to deter employees from reporting safety concerns as a follow up to its release of over 3,000 workers last week.

Under the agreement, employees must accept that they “had the opportunity to raise any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities against the company, and that if any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities were raised during your employment, they were addressed to your satisfaction.”

In addition, the agreement:

  • Requires former employees to aid Tesla in defending itself in claims against the company
  • Bars former employees from sharing “business-related” information
  • Requires former employees to handle any disputes via individual arbitration
  • Requires former employees to release any claims against the company

Tripp is currently seeking an attorney and whistleblower protections.

Meanwhile, Tesla is pushing toward its second quarter Model 3 production goals. The electronic auto maker has failed numerous production deadlines, causing investors to get nervous. Today, Tesla stock was down 3%.

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