Uber just fired the engineer at the center of its legal battle with Google because he won't cooperate

Uber founder Travis Kalanick. Photo: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images

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 move, which it made on Friday, was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times. Business Insider confirmed Levandowski’s firing with the company.

Uber had been asking Levandowski for months to assist with its internal investigation for its defence against Waymo’s charges, according to a company spokesperson. Levandowski, however, has pleaded the Fifth Amendment to protect himself against self-incrimination and hired his own criminal attorneys to represent him.

Uber fired Levandowski after he didn’t meet the company’s deadline for complying with its request, the spokesperson 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 from Google 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 blocked 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 had actually taken them, to turn them over to Uber’s lawyers.

In Levandowski’s termination letter, first obtained by the Washington Post, Uber wrote that it “requested your full cooperation” but “as of today, you have not complied with these requirements.”

Uber had sent Levandowski in April a letter with an previous list of demands, which hasn’t been made public. Levandowski did not comply with that request either.

“Your failure impeded Uber’s internal investigation and defence of the lawsuit referenced above and constitutes a ground for termination for Cause,” Uber’s general counsel Salle Yoo wrote in his dismissal.

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