Uber has fired autonomous car expert Anthony Levandowski, the man at the heart of the high tech ride hailing firm’s legal woes.
Levandowski’s failure to comply with a court order to hand over documents at the center of Uber’s trade-secrets battle with Alphabet’s self-driving car division, Waymo, gave it cause to terminate his employment, according to an official termination letter, which was obtained and posted by The Washington Post.
Uber had given Levandowski a set amount of time to comply with the firm’s internal investigation into the dispute, according to the letter. When he missed that deadline, Levandowski was fired.
“Consistent with our agreements with you, your employment is hereby terminated for Cause and that termination shall become effective 20 days from today (i.e., June 15, 2017),” reads the letter written by Uber general counsel Salle Yoo.
Levandowski had stepped aside as Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) chief back in April to avoid any conflicts in Uber’s legal battle with Waymo. And, although Levandowski was to retain his remaining responsibilities at Uber, Eric Meyhofer took over as head of ATG.
Waymo is accusing Levandowski of stealing elements of its Lidar technology to take with him to start Otto, a self-driving transport company which was purchased by Uber last August. The company, as part of its lawsuit, is accusing Levandowski of downloading 14,000 “confidential and proprietary design” files relating to the company’s “lidar and circuit board” before resigning as the technical lead of its self-driving car division.
Waymo has alleged that Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software on his company-issued laptop before leaving.
Levandowski has said he did download some files to enable him to work from home, but denied taking those files with him when he left to co-found Otto with Lior Ron, former product lead of Google Maps; former Google robotics program lead Claire Delaunay and Don Burnette, a former Google software engineer.
Despite Levandowski’s earlier assertions, the judge presiding over Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber has called his actions “highly suspicious.”
In his May 15 ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote that Waymo “made a strong showing” that Levandowski did indeed take the files, likely “to have them available to consult on behalf of Otto and Uber.”
Alsup ruled that Uber must hand over a timeline of events from the time Levandowski came on board as well as “ensure that its employees return 14,000-plus pilfered files to their rightful owner.”
Levandowski, however, has cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a reason for not turning over those documents on his personal computer. In a statement to The Post, his lawyers said a person cannot be fired for invoking one’s Fifth Amendment rights.