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Uber threatens to fire engineer accused of stealing Waymo documents

May 19, 2017 0 Comments

Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo engineer and current Uber employee accused of stealing information from Waymo, has been ordered to either deny the theft or turn any Waymo files over to the investigation. If he fails to comply, Uber has threatened to fire him.

Levandowski led Uber’s self-driving car program until he was demoted last month and, according to an article in Business Insider, has been removed from working with the lidar systems at Uber.

Waymo accused Levandowski of downloading over 14,000 documents containing confidential information on self-driving car technology from Waymo. Waymo says he took the documents with him when he left in 2015 to start his own autonomous vehicle company, Otto, which was later acquired by Uber for $680 million. According to the allegations, the files Levandowski stole included “plans for Waymo’s proprietary lidar system.”

In the wake of the allegations, however, Levandowski refuses to turn over any devices that might contain Waymo files to be searched, claiming his right under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

The demand to turn over the files or deny the allegations came in a letter from Salle Yoo, Uber General Counsel, on May 15. In the letter, Yoo states that Uber believes that “no Waymo trade secrets have ever been used in the development of our self-driving technology” and that the company remains confident that it will “prove that fact in due course.” In the meantime, concerning Levandowski, Uber insists he do “everything in [his] power to assist [Uber] in complying with the order.” If Levandowski doesn’t cooperate with the order, Yoo writes, “Uber will take adverse employment action against [him], which may include termination of [his] employment.”

Levandowski’s lawyers argued against the order in a court filing, asserting that U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s order “imposed an impossible burden” on Levandowski, forcing him to choose between his livelihood and his constitutional rights.

This matter did not escape the company’s notice, though. Yoo writes: “We understand that this letter requires you to turn over information wherever located, including but not limited to, your personal devices, and to waive any Fifth Amendment protection you may have… While we have respected your personal liberties, it is our view that the Court’s Order requires us to make these demands of you.”

Miles Ehrlich, one of Levandowski’s lawyers, did not immediately answer either an email or a phone called made to him during business hours. Chelsea Kohler, spokeswoman for Uber, declined to comment on the matter, and Waymo spokesman Johnny Lu didn’t respond immediately to an email.

Uber will appeal the May 11 court ruling that denied the company’s request to move the case out of the public courts, and renewed a bid to “move the litigation into closed-door arbitration” (Automotive News). It’s not a bad idea, but according to a legal expert it probably won’t work and won’t delay a trial set sometime in October. Charlotte Garden, associate law professor at Seattle University, agrees, saying it’s “a long shot for Uber,” and that the judge likely won’t pause the ongoing case to wait for the appeals court ruling.

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