Frustrated ex-Tesla employee agrees to $400K settlement in hacking case
The one-time Navy aviation electronics technician was recruited byTesla in 2017
A former Tesla employee has agreed to pay more than $400,000 to settle founder Elon Musk's claims that he wrote code to pilfer data from the electric-car maker's Gigafactory and leaked confidential information to reporters.
Martin Tripp, who worked at the Tesla plant in Sparks, Nev., from October 2017 through his dismissal in June 2018, was sued by the company in federal court in Reno that same month, intensifying a bitter two-year battle that played out in national news outlets and on social media.
Along with a $400,000 settlement in Tesla's original suit, Tripp agreed to pay $25,000 over claims that he violated a judge's protective order with actions that included sharing contact information for Tesla's attorneys and posted proprietary information on Twitter and Google's YouTube, according to filings on Monday.
In the settlement, Palo Alto, Calif.- based Tesla and Tripp each agreed to cover their own legal fees and refrain from further disparaging statements about each other. Tripp also agreed to destroy any confidential documents he had belonging to the automaker and to remove them from any Internet platforms where he had placed them.
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A former aviation electronics technician for the U.S. Navy with more than 20 years of experience, Tripp was recruited from Wisconsin in mid-2017 as a lead process technician for the automaker's Gigafactory. His tenure took place during a critical period for Tesla, which was endeavoring to ramp up production of its more affordable Model 3 to 5,000 cars per week and consistently turn a profit.
Once on the job, he grew concerned about what he viewed as excess amounts of scrap on the assembly line he worked, arguing with co-workers, complaining to supervisors and even e-mailing Musk himself, according to court records.
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In May 2018, seven months after he was hired, Tripp e-mailed several reporters offering to share information about Tesla's Model 3 output, including his concerns about the scrap metal and his assessment that the automaker wasn't as close to achieving its goal of building 5,000 cars a week as Musk had stated publicly, according to court filings. He also claimed that Tesla had created safety issues, such as smoking batteries, by accelerating its manufacturing processes.
Tesla denied the production issues, according to court filings.
Tripp filed a counterclaim in July 2018, claiming that Tesla had damaged his reputation, in part by publicizing a phone call from someone purporting to be a friend of the ex-employee who said Tripp was heavily armed and planning to "shoot up" the Gigafactory.
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Tripp, who denied ever making such a statement, also complained about an e-mail that Musk sent to employees stating he blamed his actions on the denial of a promotion. Tripp said he was unaware he was even eligible for one, according to court filings.
Musk's e-mail also said the company would investigate whether Tripp was working with any outside organizations, citing a "long list of organizations that want Tesla to die," including short-sellers who were betting that the company's stock price would fall.
The billionaire entrepreneur has long criticized short-sellers, and when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against him in 2018, referred to the agency as the "Shortseller Enrichment Commission" on Twitter.
Tesla said in an August court filing that Tripp's counter-claim, largely dismissed, had been paid for by a hedge fund, Cable Car Capital, that was a short-seller of the carmaker's stock.
Jacob Ma-Weaver, a portfolio manager with the fund, said he contacted Tripp only after learning of his lawsuit in news reports and maintained the case was unrelated to Cable Car's investment.