Tesla is seeking $167 million in damages in a lawsuit against Martin Tripp, a former Tesla employee whom Elon Musk has called a “saboteur,” accusing him of stealing confidential information and leaking trade secrets to outsiders, new legal filings on Tuesday revealed.
The lawsuit, originally filed in June in a U.S. District Court in Nevada, alleged that Tripp, a former process engineer, had hacked into computers at Tesla’s Nevada battery factory; illegally leaked company data to outsiders; and made false claims to reporters.
Tesla originally sought just $1 million in damages. The significantly heightened damage claims revealed in this week’s court filings were calculated based on supposed dips in Tesla’s stock earlier this year as a result of the information Tripp provided to the press, Tripp’s attorney Robert D. Mitchell told CNBC. Mitchell characterized the claims as “absurd.”
The information Tripp provided to media over the summer included accusations that Elon Musk had lied about the Model 3 production progress and that Tesla had used defective batteries in some Model 3 cars. He also filed a formal complaint with the SEC about these allegations in July.
Partly due to Tripp’s revelations, Tesla shares fell about 17 percent during the month of July, which was worth $10 billion of Tesla’s total market cap. The stock rode another wild swing shortly after that when Musk tweeted out his famous “take Tesla private” announcement. But by now, Tesla stock has recovered the losses from both summer dips—back to its level a year ago.
Musk owns 19 percent of Tesla, which accounts for the majority of his net worth, most recently estimated at $25 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Musk also owns SpaceX and The Boring Company, and is an investor in a slew of startups, including Google’s DeepMind and Stripe, among others.
Tripp’s attorney in the SEC complaint, Stuart Meissner, has told Observer that the original $1 million in damages sought by Tesla in the Nevada case was unusual for a company its size. “To me, this says the lawsuit is really about harassing and sending a message to other employees as opposed to money,” Meissner said in July.
The same month, in response to the Tesla lawsuit, Tripp started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to fight back. So far, the campaign has raised $18,566 toward its $500,000 goal.
Tripp joined Tesla in October 2017 at the Nevada battery factory and had signed a non-disclosure agreement. He was reassigned to a different role in May 2018 after his managers identified problems with his job performance, which sparked him to retaliate against the company by stealing confidential information, the lawsuit alleges.