Tesla Faces Lawsuit Alleging Retaliation Against Employee for Reporting Theft

A former Tesla employee named Lynn Thompson has filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that he was fired after reporting instances of copper theft at the battery manufacturing plant in Reno, Nevada. He claims Elon Musk attempted to cover up blatant instances of theft.

Thompson first reported instances of pallets of copper being loaded up and hauled off-site to senior officials at Tesla, including Musk himself, and contractor ONQ Global in April 2018. In June 2018, he witnessed people loading copper wire into a truck and reported it to Tesla security, who called local law enforcement. A few days later, Tesla management informed him that he would no longer be employed at the Gigafactory in Nevada.

He filed the lawsuit in a Nevada federal court on Friday. According to the complaint, he since learned that Tesla pressured ONQ Global to discontinue his employment and ban him from the Gigafactory. The lawsuit alleges that the company was afraid of the information being leaked to the media and shareholders.

Tesla already has a pattern of concern about the leaking of information to the press. It has previously won a court case in which it accused a former employee named Martin Tripp of violating Nevada’s cybersecurity laws when he leaked sensitive documents to the press. Tripp claims that he aimed to expose alleged unsafe working conditions at the factory in Nevada, a matter that Tesla says has been vastly overstated. Tripp apparently did not help himself by getting into heated email exchanges with senior Tesla officials, including Elon Musk, which the judge made note of in his ruling.

The company also recently settled a case of corporate espionage with another former employee named Cao Guangzhi, who allegedly handed sensitive files relating to Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software over to the China-based company XMotors. Cao Guangzhi denied any wrongdoing and will pay unspecified monetary damages. XMotors says that it will not use any files that it might have obtained due to concern about intellectual property laws.

Past incidents also include a former employee who uploaded files to a personal DropBox account, although Tesla could not prove that he actually handed those files over to a third party. Cybersecurity incidents include a Russian national who recently pleaded guilty to charges related to an attempt to bribe an unnamed Tesla employee to inject malware into the company’s IT systems.

Tesla lacks a PR department and has not issued a statement on the lawsuit filed by Lynn Thompson. Thompson says that millions of dollars’ worth of copper has been stolen from the Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. Experts indicate that as much as $1 billion in copper is stolen annually from a wide variety of sources, including homes, construction sites, commercial sites like Tesla’s Gigafactories, and infrastructure owned by electric and phone companies. Security aimed at stopping these thefts is a growing niche and the problem is bad enough that AT&T once prepared a report that police could use to identify and capture copper thieves.