Uber is threatening to fire the engineer at the heart of its legal battle with Google – Business Insider


anthony levandowski otto uber
Anthony
Levandowski.

Otto

Uber is threatening to fire the engineer at the centre of its
legal battle with Alphabet’s self-driving-car firm Waymo unless
he hands over documents from his previous employer.

Anthony Levandowski previously worked at Waymo, which is owned by
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to help develop autonomous
vehicle tech. But he subsequently left to create his own
self-driving-truck startup, Otto, which Uber acquired for $680
million.

Alphabet and Waymo have accused Uber and Otto of stealing Waymo’s
trade secrets and intellectual property and of infringing on
patents related to lidar, a technology that autonomous vehicles
use to “see.”

Uber denies the allegations.


Waymo is accusing Levandowski of downloading more than 14,000
files while working for the company in 2015
and taking them
with him. But Levandowski is refusing to let the devices that
might contain the files be searched, asserting his Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Uber has already demoted Levandowski and removed him from any
work involving lidar systems at Uber. But after receiving a court
order to return any documents taken from Waymo, Uber is
threatening to fire Levandowski if he does not cooperate.

“We understand that this letter requires you to turn over
information wherever located, including but not limited to, your
personal devices, and to waive any Fifth Amendment protection you
may have,” Uber’s general counsel, Salle Yoo, wrote in a letter
on Monday that was made public in a court filing Thursday. “While
we have respected your personal liberties, it is our view that
the Court’s Order requires us to make these demands of you.”

She went on: “If you do not agree to comply with all of the
requirements set forth herein, or if you fail to comply in a
material manner, then Uber will take adverse employment action
against you, which may include termination of your employment and
such termination would be for Cause.”

But Levandowski’s lawyers say the demand is unconstitutional.

They wrote that court order forcing Uber to make the demand of
him was “an act by the judicial branch of our federal government
compelling an individual to choose between preserving his
livelihood and preserving his constitutional rights.” They
continued: “Nearly fifty years of Supreme Court precedent forbid
the government from putting an individual to such an
unconstitutionally coercive choice.”

An Uber representative did not immediately comment when contacted
by Business Insider.

Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the trial,
has also previously referred the case to the US attorney’s office
for a potential criminal investigation
.

The case comes at a critical time for Uber. The ride-hailing
company is reeling from multiple scandals, including allegations
of sexual harassment at the company, and numerous high-level
executives have left in recent months.
CEO Travis Kalanick is pinning the future of his company on its
self-driving-car unit
, and he has said failing to be first to
develop the tech could pose an existential threat to Uber.

“If we are not tied for first, then the person who is in first,
or the entity that’s in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing
network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber’s,
then Uber is no longer a thing,” he said.

Here’s the letter that Uber’s lawyers sent Levandowski:

And here is Levandowski’s lawyers’ response:

Uber is threatening to fire the engineer at the heart of its legal battle with Google – Business Insider

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