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Tesla is suing its ex-Autopilot director for allegedly poaching employees and stealing confidential information

Sterling Anderson was working with the former CTO of Google’s self-driving arm, Chris Urmson.


Tesla filed a suit against its former director of Autopilot, Sterling Anderson, on Thursday, alleging he attempted to recruit engineers from Tesla to join the self-driving startup he and the former CTO of Google’s self-driving arm, Chris Urmson, were establishing.

The suit further alleged that Anderson downloaded “hundreds of gigabytes of Tesla confidential and four proprietary information” documents to his personal computer. When he was terminated, Anderson returned the documents, but not the backups he created, the company alleged.

In addition to making offers to a dozen Tesla employees — only two of whom accepted, according to the suit — Tesla is also alleging Anderson worked on the company Urmson was starting, called Aurora, during company time. Recode first reported that Urmson was starting his own self-driving company and that he was recruiting big names from many players, including Tesla and Uber.

The suit claims that Urmson recruited Tesla engineers on behalf of Anderson, and Anderson recruited engineers from Google on behalf of Urmson to avoid being accused of breach of contract.

According to the suit:

Although Anderson worked mostly behind the scenes so that he could try to create the false impression that his "hands stayed clean" — ignoring that his contract with Tesla prohibited both direct and indirect solicitation of Tesla employees — he took a more hands-on role with respect to certain recruits, directly lobbying them to join Aurora.

Anderson’s conversations with Urmson began in the summer of 2016, according to the suit, but it wasn’t until December 2016 that he notified Tesla he was leaving. The company claims that he did not indicate he was leaving to join a competing venture with Urmson and instead said that he was going to spend time with family or start a non-competing company.

“Obviously, had Anderson disclosed the true facts to Tesla, he would have been terminated immediately,” the suit read. “Instead, it was agreed that Anderson would remain with the company through the release of the next Autopilot upgrade, expected within the following several weeks.”

Anderson joined Tesla in 2014 as a senior product manager and was promoted to director of Autopilot in 2015.

Tesla also claims Anderson attempted to cover his tracks and wiped his work computer and iPhone before returning them to the company “in a manner intended to prevent them from being restored and manipulated the timestamps,” the suit reads.

The company is seeking damages, to be determined during a jury trial, from both Anderson and Urmson for breach of contract, breach of duty of loyalty and aiding and abetting breach of duty of loyalty among other things.

Update: Urmson sent Recode this statement: “Tesla’s meritless lawsuit reveals both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition. This abuse of the legal system is a malicious attempt to stifle a competitor and destroy personal reputations. Aurora looks forward to disproving these false allegations in court and to building a successful self-driving business.”

Tesla said it had no comment beyond what was included in the suit.

Here’s the full suit:

This article originally appeared on

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