Uber fires self-driving car chief at center of court case

Uber fires self-driving car chief at center of court case

Uber fires self-driving car chief at center of court case

Uber Technologies Inc said on Tuesday it fired the technology whiz it had hired to lead its self-driving unit, Anthony Levandowski, after he failed to comply with a court order to hand over documents at the center of a legal dispute between Uber and Alphabet Inc's Waymo unit. Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging that the ride-hail company was using the stolen documents to advance its lidar technology, and the case between the two Silicon Valley firms is set to go to trial in October.

In May, a district judge dealt a further blow to Uber when he referred the trade secrets case to the USA attorney's office for criminal investigation.

Waymo has alleged that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents containing its trade secrets before he left the company to found a startup that was later purchased by Uber. In a court filing on Tuesday, his attorneys said the judge's order placed "Mr. Levandowski on the horns of an unconstitutional dilemma: either he must waive his Fifth Amendment rights. or face immediate firing".

Uber fired Levandowski after he didn't meet the company's deadline for complying with its request, the spokesperson said.

The judge theorised that Levandowski could have used Waymo's documents himself even if he did not turn them over to Uber. In a statement on Tuesday, his lawyers argued that a person can not be fired for invoking one's Fifth Amendment rights.

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Levandowski, a top engineer on self-driving technology, has turned into a liability for Uber in court.

Levandowski's expertise in robot-controlled cars is the main reason that the ride-hailing company bought his startup for $680 million nine months ago.

Uber had been standing by Levandowski's right to use his Fifth Amendment protections until Alsup issued the decision requiring the company to return any documents belonging to Waymo by May 31. Uber has never denied that he took the Waymo documents.

Levandowski's termination is another blow to Uber, which may find its best road to profitability is through self-driving cars. Yoo writes that Levandowski's failure to comply with the court order constitutes a potential "breach" of the employment agreement. Indeed, Levandowski was well aware that failing to cooperate would be grounds for termination, which is to say that Levandowski adamant refusal to cooperate effectively forced Uber's hand.

His silence has not won him sympathy from U.S. District Judge William Alsup, the judge overseeing the case, who earlier this month said Waymo has "one of the strongest records I've ever seen" showing that Levandowski took the files. Alsup ordered Uber to ensure its work on lidar remains off limits to Levandowski.

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