Martin Tripp, an ex-Tesla technician whom the company has accused of hacking and sabotage, has now countersued his former employer and claimed that Tesla defamed him.
Since Tesla fired Tripp and sued him over a month ago for alleged trade secrets theft, he has since hired a New York attorney to help him file a formal whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
CEO Elon Musk has suggested that there could be tens of “bad apples” who have also committed “sabotage” against the company in an apparent effort to thwart Tesla’s ambitious promised ramp-up to produce 5,000 Model 3s per week. In recent months the company mounted an unusual tent-like apparatus known as a Sprung structure that houses a new assembly line as part of its factory in Fremont, California.
However, to date, Tesla has not brought any cases against any further alleged saboteurs.
In a new lawsuit filed Tuesday by his new Arizona-based legal team, Tripp more fully explained his concerns.
A long, dusty road
Tripp previously worked at the Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, which manufactures Tesla’s batteries.
There, he “observed that the waste and scrap levels and non-conforming materials generated by Counterdefendant dramatically increased” after the March 2018 so-called “March to 2,500.” The “March to 2,500” referred to Tesla’s goal of ramping up to 2,500 Model 3s and then 5,000 by July 2018.
The lawsuit goes on to explain that Tripp “raised his concerns about the seemingly exorbitant amounts of scrap with his managers and supervisors but no action was taken.” On May 16, 2018, he went so far as to email Musk himself and included supporting “graphical charts,” in anticipation of Musk’s visit to the Gigafactory.
As the civil complaint continues:
Later in the afternoon on May 16, 2018, Mr. Tripp’s Manufacturing Engineer Manager asked Mr. Tripp to “forward” him the “email to Elon so that I can avoid getting fired tonight.” After Mr. Tripp asked why the Manufacturing Engineer Manager would get fired, the Manufacturing Engineer Manager explained: “because I’m the guy showing him the line and our problems like yield, the guy standing in front of him is the guy who gets fired, and tonight I’m the guy in front of him.”
That same day, a Design Engineer asked Mr. Tripp to “clean up” the stator production line area so Mr. Musk would not see the mounds of scrap and waste lying on the ground. Mr. Tripp declined to do so because he had repeatedly complained to his supervisors about that very issue over the course of several months, but his complaints had been ignored. Mr. Tripp wanted Mr. Musk to observe how the Gigafactory was actually being operated.
The next day, May 17, 2018, Mr. Tripp was “reassigned” to the battery module production line.
Perhaps most egregiously, Mr. Tripp was told by multiple process technicians and associates that a “teach pin” had been left on a robot used in the manufacturing process of battery modules, causing damage to the battery modules. Mr. Tripp was told by the process technicians and associates that when the robot had picked up a battery module, the teach pin, which had become “unthreaded” and “longer,” struck the clamshell (i.e., the outer plastic coating) of the battery module, causing a dent and/or puncture. Mr. Tripp was further told that, eventually, the teach pin began puncturing the actual battery cells within the battery module. approximately 1,173 battery modules had been damaged by this process.
For its part, Tesla has strongly denied that any such damaged batteries made it into any Model 3. The company has previously said in a statement that “Tripp is either not telling the truth or he simply has no idea what he is talking about.”
Bye, bye, birdie?
In yet another bizarre turn in this twisted tale, in the immediate wake of the June 2018 lawsuit filed against Tripp, a woman at the Gigafactory said she received a call from an anonymous caller claiming that Tripp had threatened to “shoot the place up.”
Tripp previously categorically denied making any such statement to Ars, which prompted a visit by the Storey County Sheriff. The local authorities ultimately determined that there was “no credible threat.”
Even if Tesla did receive such a call, according to the lawsuit, Tesla “did not, based upon information and belief, conduct a reasonable investigation to determine whether the purported caller was actually a ‘friend of Mr. Tripp’ before making the foregoing false and defamatory publication, such as obtaining the name of the caller or ascertaining how the caller knew Mr. Tripp.”
This, Tripp’s lawyers argue, constitutes “at least negligence.”
Even more strangely, the lawsuit continues, during the sheriff’s investigation, Tesla “appeared to know exactly where Mr. Tripp was located the majority of the time and, after being asked by the investigating deputies how it was aware of such information, [Tesla] simply replied ‘little birds sing.’”
Tesla did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.