Tesla sued former employee for hacking and theft. But he says he’s a whistleblower

  Analysis: Why it's time for Tesla to grow

Tesla sued a former employee on Wednesday accused of hacking into his manufacturing operating system and stealing company data.

But that former employee is counterattacking, saying that he is being targeted by Tesla for trying to bring the company's problems to light.

"They are pointing me out as a whistleblower, I did not get into the system, the data I was collecting was so bad, I had to go to the media," said Martin Tripp, the defendant at Tesla's trial. He told CNNMoney shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

Tesla filed the lawsuit in federal court in Nevada on Wednesday against Tripp, 40, of Sparks, Nevada, who had worked on his gigantic lithium battery Gigafactory since October 2017. Tesla ( TSLA ) requests unspecified financial damages and be able to search Tripp computers and personal USB and storage devices, email accounts, cloud-based storage accounts and phone calls mobile and message history.

The lawsuit says that it "pirated the company's confidential and commercial information and transferred that information to third parties." He said that he placed software on the computer system that would continue to work even when he left the company. He claims that Tesla's stolen data includes dozens of confidential photos and a video of Tesla's manufacturing system.

CEO Elon Musk sent an email to Tesla employees on Sunday night saying that an employee had admitted to committing "extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations", however, the claim itself does not use the word sabotage. Musk's email did not identify Tripp by name.

Related: Tesla ignites fire spontaneously without crashing

But Tripp told CNN that he was fired in the last week and Tesla sued him because he was trying to warn investors and the public about problems in the electric car manufacturer. He said he discovered that 1,100 damaged battery modules were installed in the Model 3 cars that are on the road today. He said he was also concerned about the excess scrap that was dangerously stored on Tesla's property in Nevada, which would be expensive to dispose of safely in the future. And he claims that Tesla inflated the number of Model 3 he made when he said he had built 2,020 cars in the seven days prior to a highly anticipated April 3 report. Tripp said the real number is closer to 1,900.

The lawsuit alleges that the statements made by Tripp about the damaged battery modules were false and that damaged batteries were not used in the automobiles. And he said he vastly exaggerated the amount of waste that Tesla is producing.

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Tripp also told CNNMoney that it did not have the ability to make changes to the operating system in Tesla, and that only he did work on the computer that he had been hired to do in his role as a process technician.

The former employee said he contacted several media outlets about his allegations and spoke at length with one of them. But that point of sale has yet to make a story about it.

Tesla's lawsuit said that Tripp had complained that he had not been granted a senior position in the company and that when managers identified problems with his job performance and rebadigned him, he expressed his anger with the rebadignment. Tripp denied having wanted a promotion or complained about his position.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tripp's allegations, and none of the facts in those allegations could be verified.

CNNMoney (New York) First publication on June 20, 2018: 5:27 PM ET


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