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Tesla Sues Former Executive For Trying To Start Own Company With Its Data

REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor

Tesla filed a lawsuit against a former high-level employee Thursday, accusing the staff member of stealing confidential data and trying to shepherd other employees towards another self-driving startup he was developing.

The tech conglomerate alleges in an official criminal complaint that Sterling Anderson violated his contract “by attempting to recruit at least a dozen Tesla engineers, taking Tesla’s confidential and proprietary information, and doctoring and destroying evidence in an effort to cover his tracks — all for the benefit of a competing venture he launched while still a Tesla employee.”

Anderson served as the director of autopilot programs for over a year. (RELATED: Elon Musk Says Autopilot Death Probably Wouldn’t Have Happened With Latest Updates)

Christopher Urmson, the former CTO of Google’s self-driving initiative, was also named in the lawsuit. Urmson announced his resignation from Google in August.

Anderson allegedly downloaded “hundreds of gigabytes” of proprietary and secret information. He apparently handed back the original documents when he was fired, but not the copies of the files he created. Anderson is also accused of colluding with Urmson, who started his own self-driving car company Aurora. Specifically, Tesla says that Urmson would contact Tesla engineers on behalf of Anderson, while Anderson would contact Google engineers on behalf of Urmson. (RELATED: Big Tech Always Ends Up With Big Lawsuits)

Anderson “wiped his company-issued iPhone, purging not only Tesla-related materials that he was required to return upon the end of his employment but also text messages and phone records evidencing his unlawful solicitation of Tesla employees. He erased files from his company-issued laptop,” the legal complaint reads. (RELATED: Tesla Poaches 11-Year Veteran At Apple To Speed Up Autopilot Tech Development)

Urmson, though, vehemently argues that the lawsuit is based on false accusations.

“Tesla’s meritless lawsuit reveals both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition,” Urmson said in a statement, according to Recode Thursday. “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.”

A highly similar situation unfolded in November after Zynga, a social video game service, sued two former employees and its main rival for allegedly taking secret data to the other company.

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