The Tesla “whistleblower” who was accused of sabotage has filed a counterclaim against Tesla and Elon Musk, arguing that his former employer defamed him when it told media outlets that he had threatened a mass shooting.
Martin Tripp, a former technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, was sued by the electric car company on 20 June, just days after Musk had sent a company email stating that an employee had engaged in “quite extensive and damaging sabotage” against the company’s computer systems.
The lawsuit accused Tripp of hacking, theft, and making false claims to the media about punctured battery cells and excess scrap material.
Tripp fought back, telling reporters that he was not a saboteur, but a whistleblower who had leaked information to a reporter for Business Insider out of environmental and safety concerns.
In response to Tripp’s claim to be a whistleblower, Musk told the Guardian by email on the evening of 20 June that Tesla had “received a call at the Gigafactory that he was going to come back and shoot people”.
The Guardian did not publish the allegation, but other media outlets did, based on an official statement from a company spokesperson stating that the call came “from a friend of Mr Tripp”. The local sheriff’s department announced that “there was no credible threat” the next day.
Earlier this month, Musk faced significant backlash after he baselessly accused one of the British cave divers involved in the rescue of 12 Thai children of being a “pedo”. The diver said he was considering legal action, and Musk eventually apologized.
William Fischbach, one of the attorneys representing Tripp, said Tuesday: “Tesla has made several false and defamatory statements about Mr Tripp in an effort to discredit him before the general public.”
Another attorney for Tripp, Robert D Mitchell, added: “There were very suspicious, very contradictory stories that were advanced by Tesla. We’re going to be interested in getting to the bottom of how the story was concocted.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has previously challenged the accuracy of Tripp’s claims.
The counterclaim, filed in federal court in Nevada on Tuesday, reasserts claims that Tripp had made to Business Insider about his concerns over “high levels of waste and scrap”, “unnerving, dangerous and wasteful business practices” and “punctured battery modules”.
The countersuit also alleges that Tesla never received any phone call from “a friend of Mr Tripp” and argues that even if the company had received such a call, it acted “with at least negligence” by failing to “conduct a reasonable investigation” prior to publicizing the information.
The suit further alleges various problems with Tesla’s behavior on the night of the alleged shooting threat, stating that Tesla had “provided inconsistent responses” to law enforcement when asked whether the caller was male or female; that Tesla “provided false information” to law enforcement when it claimed to be able to “verify” that Tripp was “armed”; and that Tesla “appeared to know exactly where Mr Tripp was located” during the course of the sheriff’s department’s investigation, telling investigators that “little birds sing”.
Mitchell and Fischbach declined to comment on the source of their information about Tesla’s statements to investigators, but they said they had confidence in their evidence.
The suit also addresses a series of tweets that Musk sent about the Business Insider reporter, Linette Lopez, to whom Tripp had leaked information.
The countersuit claims that the tweet “falsely implies that Mr Tripp accepted a bribe from Ms Lopez in exchange for providing information”, which Tripp denies.
Tripp is seeking $2m and punitive damages for claims of defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The countersuit comes at a sensitive time for Tesla, which is under intense pressure from investors to prove that it can mass-produce its electric vehicles and turn a profit.
Tesla will announce its quarterly financial results Wednesday.