Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the former head of its self-driving-car program, over his refusal to cooperate in its legal battle against Waymo.
Uber’s firing of Levandowski, on Friday, was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times. Business Insider confirmed it with the company.
Uber had been asking Levandowski for months to assist with its internal investigation for its defense against Waymo’s charges, according to an Uber representative. Levandowski, however, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to protect himself against self-incrimination, and he hired criminal attorneys to represent him.
Uber fired Levandowski after he didn’t meet the company’s deadline for complying with its request, the representative said. Eric Meyhofer, who has been running Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group since Levandowski was demoted in April, will continue to oversee Uber’s self-driving-car development.
Despite not being named in the lawsuit, Levandowski’s actions have been at the center of the legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving-car operation under Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Waymo has accused Levandowski of downloading 14,000 files before he left Google and then using that information to jump-start Uber’s self-driving-car program.
Earlier in May, Judge William Alsup formally barred Levandowski from all lidar-related work at Uber. As part of his preliminary injunction, Alsup set a May 31 deadline for Uber to return the missing files.
The judge also ordered the company to hand over by the end of June a detailed log of “conferences, meetings, phone calls, one-on-one conversations, texts, emails, letters, memos, and voicemails – wherein Anthony Levandowski mentioned lidar to any officer, director, employee, agent, supplier, or consultant of defendants.”
In response to Alsup’s order, Uber wrote a letter to Levandowski on May 15 issuing a series of demands and threatening to fire him if he didn’t comply. Included in those demands were turning over his personal devices and issuing a written statement denying he ever took files from Google – or, if he did take them, to turn them over to Uber’s attorneys.
In Levandowski’s termination letter, which was included in court filings, Uber wrote that it “requested your full cooperation” but “as of today, you have not complied with these requirements.” A clause in his contract means Levandowski has 20 days to “cure the deficiencies” spelled out by Uber, meaning his termination date is technically June 15. However, Uber considers him terminated and has cut off his access to email and the office. The company did not say whether he remains on payroll until that June date.
Uber in April sent Levandowski another list of demands in a letter, which hasn’t been made public. Levandowski did not comply with those requests either.
“Your failure impeded Uber’s internal investigation and defense of the lawsuit referenced above and constitutes a ground for termination for cause,” Uber’s general counsel, Salle Yoo, wrote in his termination letter.