When a worker starts saying bad things about their employer in public, it tends to raise a certain question: are they a whistleblower or are they a disgruntled employee trying to sabotage an honest company?
According to Tesla, Martin Tripp, who used to work as a process technician for the car manufacturer, is allegedly a saboteur who is actively trying to inflict financial harm on the company. Among the allegations listed in Tesla’s complaint are defamation and theft of trade secrets.
The business defamation and trade secret lawsuit alleges Tripp wrote software that was designed to hack Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (MOS). The lawsuit claims Tripp admitted to doing so and to transferring data to third parties without Tesla’s knowledge or consent. The data Tripp allegedly stole is said to include dozens of photos and at least one video, all showing how Tesla’s MOS works.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the business lawsuit further alleges Tripp made defamatory comments about the company to the media. As an example, Tesla’s complaint points to some comments Tripp made saying some of the company’s Model 3 vehicles had punctured battery cells, but the company insists no punctured cells (battery or otherwise) have ever been used in any of their vehicles.
The company also alleges Tripp made statements to the public about the amount and value of “scrap” materials the company was producing in the course of making its vehicles. According to the defamation lawsuit, Tripp significantly exaggerated both the amount and value of the scrap material Tesla was producing, implying the company is wasteful and harming both the environment and the economy by using more material than it needs to in the course of making its famous, energy-efficient cars.
Companies are expected to deny allegations that put it in a negative light so they can control any damage that may have been rendered as a result of those allegations, but whether Tesla is defending itself against a defamatory employee or simply trying to lessen the damage done by a whistleblower has yet to be determined.
Tesla’s business lawsuit, which was filed in Nevada, is seeking $1 million from Tripp for the alleged defamation and stolen trade secrets. To seek such a high award suggests Tesla is feeling confident that it holds the legal high ground, or it could just be a tactic intended to intimidate Tripp into staying quiet about the company’s dirty secrets.
While there are many employees who retaliate against their employers for what they perceive to be unfair treatment, it’s also a common tactic for companies to paint whistleblowers as disgruntled employees who should not be taken seriously. Tesla claims Tripp was initially hired in the fall of 2017 to work in their battery factory near Reno, Nevada, but that he was reassigned to a different job, which he allegedly resented. Either the truth will come out in court or the parties will reach a settlement agreement before the dispute ever reaches that point, in which case the public will never know for sure who was in the right.
Our Evanston, IL libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.
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Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage County defamation and slander lawyers near and have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Skokie and Niles, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.