Tesla is suing Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of its Autopilot team, and Chris Urmson, the former technical lead of Google’s self-driving car program, alleging that Anderson and Urmson worked together to poach Tesla employees to a new venture Urmson was starting called Aurora Innovation. Recode revealed in early September that Urmson was working on his own self-driving car company.
The complaint, filed in California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, alleges that Anderson attempted to recruit at least 12 Tesla engineers to a new self-driving venture that he and Urmson were starting, in violation of Anderson’s non-solicitation agreement, and that Anderson took confidential Tesla information and “destroy[ed] evidence in an effort to cover his tracks.”
Aurora denied all the allegations in a statement.
Tesla is alleging that Urmson and Aurora Innovation “knew of” and “intended to cause Anderson to breach his agreements with Tesla,” as well as to “[interfere] with prospective economic advantage” between Tesla and its employees.
Tesla alleges that Anderson transferred hundreds of gigabytes of “Tesla confidential and proprietary information” to his personal hard drives, and failed to return that information when he left the company, in violation of his contract. It also says he altered the timestamps on files on his company-issued laptop and erased others, “all in an attempt to conceal his misdeeds.”
erased files “in an attempt to conceal his misdeeds”
It says that Anderson and Urmson worked together while Anderson was “on Tesla time, using his Tesla company laptop, and on Tesla’s premises,” including a time when Anderson took his Tesla laptop to Urmson’s home and accessed a document called “Recruiting targets.” Tesla says Anderson had a non-solicitation contract with the company that extended 12 months beyond his last day of work.
In the complaint, Tesla says it “does not file this action lightly” and says that the company is “typically supportive” of the personal ambitions of its employees, but “cannot sit idly by” when an employee “abuses his position of trust and orchestrates a scheme to deliberately and repeatedly violate his non-solicit agreement, hide evidence, and take the company’s confidential and proprietary information for use in a competing venture.”
only two employees ended up leaving Tesla
Out of the dozen employees that Tesla says Anderson tried to poach, only two ended up leaving the company, according to the filing. It goes on to claim Anderson told Tesla he was leaving the company in early December, but didn’t mention the new venture. He stayed at the company for several weeks, agreeing with Tesla that he would see the next Autopilot upgrade through to release. On January 3rd, the complaint says, three engineers from the Autopilot group told Tesla that they would be joining Aurora (one later changed his mind), and Anderson allegedly began covering his tracks, erasing his phone and some files (including some Aurora-related documents) from his company-issued laptop. The complaint alleges that Anderson did not hand over hard drives he used to back up his company laptop when his employment with the company ended on January 4th.
The lawsuit also sheds some light on Urmson’s new venture, Aurora Innovation. It says Anderson said to a Tesla engineer that the “scope of hardware development” at Aurora would be “more expansive” than they might expect and that the company had already taken meetings with “four of the top five OEMs.”
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial to determine compensatory damages, as well as auditing of Aurora’s systems for “unlawful retention or use” of Tesla’s information.
Tesla directed us to the lawsuit filing when asked for comment. Sterling Anderson sent The Verge this statement from Aurora Innovation:
Tesla’s meritless lawsuit reveals both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition. This abuse of the legal system is a malicious attempt to stifle a competitor and destroy personal reputations. Aurora looks forward to disproving these false allegations in court and to building a successful self-driving business.
Tesla’s complaint, filed today, is embedded below.
Updated 9:30PM ET: Altered the 8th paragraph to note that all of the allegations come from the filed complaint.
Updated 12:40PM ET, February 24: The headline has been corrected to note that the lawsuit is largely over breach of contract, not theft of Tesla’s company secrets.