Tesla wins key ruling in legal battle against former employee


Enlarge / The Tesla Gigafactory under construction in 2016. Tripp would start work there the following year.

Troy Harvey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Nevada has thrown out a defamation case by former Tesla employee Martin Tripp against his former employer. At the same time, Judge Miranda Du refused to dismiss Tesla’s charge that Tripp had violated Nevada’s computer crime law when he provided confidential Tesla information to a reporter.

Tripp came to public attention in the spring of 2018 when he told several news organizations—including Ars Technica—that he had evidence that Tesla was wasting raw materials and exaggerating its progress toward producing 5,000 Model 3 cars per week. When someone claiming to be a friend of Tripp’s called Tesla to warn that Tripp was heavily armed and might “come back and shoot people,” Tesla repeated the claim to news organizations. The accusation proved unfounded.

Tesla sued Tripp for violating trade secret and computer crime laws. Tripp counter-sued for defamation over the shooting claims. In a Thursday ruling, Du dismissed Tripp’s defamation claims but let some of Tesla’s claims move forward to trial.

While the case isn’t over, the judge’s ruling is an ominous sign for Tripp. As the case goes to trial, Tripp and Tesla will try to build a factual record to show that Tripp did—or didn’t—violate trade secret and computer crime laws. But it’s not clear what facts could save Tripp here.

“Tripp had a duty not to disclose Tesla’s confidential information,” Du wrote. “Tripp understood this, but nonetheless shared information with [reporter Linette] Lopez he knew he was not authorized to share with her. A rational trier of fact could reasonably find that Tripp acted in conscious disregard of Tesla’s rights.”

Tripp could face an uphill battle convincing a jury that he didn’t break the law.

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