Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada [CREDIT - YouTube user California Phantom]
On Thursday, Tesla sued former employee Martin Tripp for stealing trade secrets and transferring several gigabytes of data to third parties, including pictures of the company's battery assembly line at the Gigafactory in Nevada, where he worked.
The details of the suit point to a testy, high-pressure work environment, where workers put in long hours trying to produce more cars and more batteries faster, to keep their jobs and prevent the company from going under, all under the hawkish eye of perhaps America's highest-profile CEO.
On June 17, CEO Elon Musk announced in a company-wide email obtained by Reuters that a rogue employee had sabotaged the company's assembly process and stolen proprietary data.
A series of Thursday emails obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed to it by Tesla as authentic, show Musk and Tripp exchanging bitter words. In details of the emails revealed by The Post, Musk called Tripp "a horrible human being," and said that he should be "ashamed of himself," and face "legal penalties."
According to a report in The Washington Post, Tesla also made the startling claim that Tripp had told a fellow employee that he would come to the factory and "shoot the place up,"
Tripp, who worked at the Gigafactory from last October to last week, called the latter claim "absurd," and "insane," and said he is a whistleblower and "never made a threat."
According to the Post report, the sheriff's office in Storey County, Nevada, where the Gigafactory is located, reported that it had received notice of a threat at the factory, but that after several hours of investigation determined that "there was no credible threat."
Tesla says it is increasing security at the factory.
According to Bloomberg, the lawsuit alleges that Tripp was identified as having trouble with job performance and was transferred to another role, and that he expressed anger at being reassigned.
Tesla Model 3 all-wheel drive Performance rolls off a new assembly line in a temporary structure
The suit claims that Tripp wrote a computer program designed to steal company data and email it to third parties and to conceal his tracks by using the computers of three of his former colleagues, and so trying to implicate them in the actions.
It also says that Tripp falsely claims that punctured battery cells were used in production of some Tesla Model 3s. Tesla says no punctured batteries were ever installed in Model 3 vehicles.
Tripp called the condition dangerous and says he has hired an attorney and is seeking whistleblower status, according to the Post report.
In a statement emailed to Green Car Reports, Tesla said: "After being caught hacking Tesla’s confidential and trade secret information and transferring it to third parties, Mr. Tripp is now claiming he is a 'whistleblower.' He is nothing of the sort. He is someone who stole Tesla data through highly pernicious means and transferred that data to unknown amounts of third parties, all while making easily disprovable claims about the company."
Among the claims the company says Tripp made are the use of punctured battery cells in Model 3 cars and false estimates of the amount and value of scrap material generated by the factory.
Reports of high volumes of scrap materials at Tesla were widely covered by business journals online.
Tour of Tesla battery gigafactory for invited owners, Reno, Nevada, July 2016
He also shared video of the Gigafactory's assembly line and said Tesla had exaggerated sales of the Model 3, which Tesla also denies, according to the company statement. The statement goes on to say that "thousands of people have ongoing access to production numbers. It is updated in real-time on screens in the factory, plainly visible to anyone passing by. The claim that Tesla would report the wrong production number is ridiculous.
"On all of these issues, Tripp is either not telling the truth or he simply has no idea what he is talking about."
Tesla is also seeking an injunction against use of Tripp's information by third parties.
Tripp told the Washington Post that he and his family have temporarily vacated their home after the address was posted online.