Uber fires robo car exec for insubordination

Self-driving star Anthony Levandowski told to show himself out

Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the technology exec at the center of Waymo's lawsuit against the ridesharing company that alleges theft of self-driving car secrets and patent infringement.

Uber's chief legal officer Salle Yoo dropped the ax on Tuesday in a letter obtained by several media organizations, including The New York Times and The Guardian.

Citing Levandowski's failure to comply with a May 15 letter from the company demanding cooperation with a court order to produce documents in the Waymo litigation, Yoo declares that Levandowski has violated his contract and is terminated immediately.

Levandowski has the option to reverse his termination by meeting Uber's demands within the next 20 days.

Levandowski worked at Google (and later Waymo, once Google moved its self-driving car unit under parent company Alphabet) on self-driving cars before leaving to start a self-driving truck company, Ottomotto, which Uber acquired last year for $680m.

In February, Waymo sued Uber claiming that Levandowski, without authorization, downloaded more than 14,000 confidential documents related to LiDAR mapping and navigation systems before leaving Google.

In late March, Levandowski asserted his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. At the time, according to The New York Times, Uber maintained that "Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber."

Uber subsequently said it doesn't use the technology in question. But that defense hasn't helped much.

In May, the US federal judge overseeing the case ordered Uber to take the necessary steps to ensure that its employees return stolen files to Waymo and barred Levandowski from working on LiDAR or related projects at Uber.

In footnotes, Judge William Alsup explained that his order should not be misconstrued as an attempt to punish Levandowski for asserting his Fifth Amendment rights; rather it directs Uber, as a private employer, to take all necessary steps to ensure that its employees cooperate.

"If Uber were to threaten Levandowski with termination for noncompliance, that threat would be backed up by only Uber's power as a private employer, and Levandowski would remain free to forfeit his private employment to preserve his Fifth Amendment privilege," the judge wrote.

Uber did just that in its May 15 letter. And faced with Levandowski's ongoing refusal to cooperate, Uber has made good on its threat.

An Uber representative in an email to The Register said that the company has sought Levandowski's cooperation for several months and confirmed that Levandowski has been fired.

Uber employees previously reporting to Levandowski will now report to Eric Meyhofer, who has been in charge of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group since April. ®

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