Uber Fires Ex-Google Engineer In Driverless Car War


Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the star engineer at the center of its high-stakes legal fight over driverless cars.

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.

Uber just fired Anthony Levandowski, its vice president of technology, and head of the company's self-driving program.

Asked last month why Uber did not threaten to fire Levandowski to pressure him into turning over the documents, Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez told Reuters, "We can fire him but we still don't get the documents". But when Levandowski was ordered by a federal judge to hand over evidence and testimony to that end, he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, seeking to avoid possible criminal charges, according to his lawyers.

Levandowski, who stepped aside from some of his duties last month, will exit with immediate effect. At the time, Levandowski's lawyers called the move "unconstitutional", and accused the court of "forcing him to choose between his privileges and continued employment".

Levandowski, a top engineer on self-driving technology, has turned into a liability for Uber in court. In a statement on Tuesday, his lawyers argued that a person can not be fired for invoking one's Fifth Amendment rights. Uber seems to suggest in its letter that this may not have been the case. A few months after leaving Google, he launched his own self-driving startup Otto, then sold it to Uber for a reported $680 million and joined the ride-hailing startup as its self-driving research lead.

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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.

Waymo's lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup.

Mr. Levandowski's attorneys have argued in court filings that the judge's order violated his constitutional right protecting him from self-incrimination.

"Waymo has supplied a compelling record that Levandowski pilfered over 14,000 files from Waymo, and that Uber knew or should have known as much when it brought him on board", Alsup said in his order.

The case prompted Levandowski in April to temporarily step aside as Uber's top self-driving auto executive and avoid working on anything related to lidar, an array of sensors that enables autonomous vehicles to navigate the roads.

Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.