Tesla whistleblower retains law firm famous for winning $22.5 million Monsanto suit

Key Points
  • Accused of sabotage by Elon Musk, Tesla whistleblower Martin Tripp has retained a law firm that won a $22.5 million in a Monsanto whistleblower lawsuit in 2016.
  • Tesla has characterized Tripp as a disgruntled ex-employee out to harm the car company's business because he was passed over for a promotion at the Gigafactory.
  • Tesla is also suing Tripp in Nevada, accusing him of stealing company data and making false statements to reporters.
Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Martin Tripp, the Tesla technician who CEO Elon Musk accused of sabotage, has filed a formal whistleblower complaint about the electric vehicle maker and hired a prominent New York law firm to represent him.

In his complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tripp alleges that Tesla has made several "material omissions and misstatements" to investors and taken steps that potentially compromised the safety of its customers.

Tripp retained Meissner Associates, which won a $22.5 million judgement in 2016 in a whistleblower lawsuit over financial fraud at Monsanto. Stuart Meissner, who runs the firm, is a former prosecutor who worked in the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

The Washington Post first reported on Tripp's complaint.

According to the exact language in a statement from Meissner Associates, Tripp alleges that the company:

  • Placed batteries containing dangerous puncture holes in vehicles which proceeded to the end of the assembly line in a process known internally at Tesla as “Containment AR622” and which input into vehicles was tracked until the end of the assembly line process;
  • Overstated to investors the number of Model 3 vehicles being produced each week by as much as 44%. The whistelblower alleges that the famed factory board which reflects a daily Model 3 production count and often referred to by Tesla is inflated;
  • Lowered vehicle specifications impacting upon safety such as placing battery cells too close to one another and which were not properly affixed, risking future combustion; and
  • Systematically reused parts already deemed scrap/waste in vehicles without regard to safety.
Journalist Elon Musk questioned over Tesla reporting speaks
Journalist Elon Musk questioned over Tesla reporting speaks

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stuart Meissner called the matter a "David and Goliath case."

"It’s dramatic and serious as far as the materiality of the omissions and misstatements, and how they effect investors, and the general public regarding potential safety hazards of Tesla vehicles," Meissner told CNBC. "I’ve never seen a company handle an employee who has raised issues internally in such an aggressive manner. To me, this indicates that they are trying to send a message not just to Martin Tripp, but to all employees that they should not speak up if they see something wrong."

In the past, Tesla has characterized Tripp as a disgruntled ex-employee who was out to harm their business because he was passed over for a promotion at the Gigafactory. The automaker filed a civil lawsuit against him, claiming Tripp hacked internal systems, exported company data and made false claims to reporters.