Uber Threatens to Fire Self-Driving Car Executive -- Update

Uber Technologies Inc. has threatened to fire Anthony Levandowski, the top driverless-car engineer at the center of its legal battle with Google parent Alphabet Inc., if he doesn't comply with a court order to turn over any files that he might have.

Uber sent Mr. Levandowski a four-page letter Monday saying he must comply with a court order issued last week that requires him to return 14,000 allegedly stolen files and an extensive accounting of any Uber employees' handling or knowledge of the files.

Mr. Levandowski, a former Alphabet engineer who joined Uber last year to run its driverless-car program, has repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in the case, declining to comment and refusing to turn over documents.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled last week that Mr. Levandowski's use of the Fifth Amendment doesn't bar Uber from firing him, and that the company shouldn't "pull any punches" in compelling him to surface more information around the allegedly stolen files.

Uber's letter to Mr. Levandowski was revealed in a motion his attorneys filed with the court late Thursday that asks the judge to revise his ruling that Uber could fire Mr. Levandowski for invoking the Fifth Amendment.

Uber and Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, declined to comment. Attorneys representing Mr. Levandowski didn't respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Levandowski's attorneys wrote in Thursday's motion that the judge's ruling last week "can be summarized quite simply: Waive your Fifth Amendment rights...or I will have you fired. The choice is yours, Mr. Levandowski."

The attorneys argued that the judge's order to Uber to force Mr. Levandowski to comply with the ruling or face termination violates decades of court precedent. The attorneys said the judge's order has made Uber believe it could be held in contempt if it continues to employ Mr. Levandowski while he refuses to cooperate.

If the judge agrees with Mr. Levandowski's attorneys and allows him to remain at Uber without cooperating with the judge's order, it could be welcome news for Uber. The company could keep a top engineer and argue it struggled to comply with the judge's demands for more information without Mr. Levandowski's assistance.

Waymo sued Uber in February for allegedly conspiring with Mr. Levandowski to steal Waymo files, in an effort to benefit Uber's driverless-car program. A trial is set for October in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Last week, Judge Alsup asked federal prosecutors to investigate Uber and Mr. Levandowski for potential trade-secret theft.

Write to Jack Nicas at jack.nicas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 19, 2017 02:02 ET (06:02 GMT)