When Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo filed a blockbuster lawsuit against Uber earlier this year, the tech giant singled out the actions of one Google-turned-Uber engineer whom it said stole thousands of confidential documents: Anthony Levandowski.
Levandowski, the head of Uber’s self-driving tech unit only since last summer, was officially fired by Uber on Tuesday, a casualty of the lawsuit. A few months after leaving Google, he launched his own self-driving startup Otto, then sold it to Uber for a reported $680 million and joined the ride-hailing startup as its self-driving research lead. An Uber spokesperson has confirmed the initial New York Times newsbreak to VICE News.
Uber had been pressuring Levandowski to comply with an internal investigation of the matter, according to a company spokesperson. He has repeatedly cited his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when asked about his actions, and he has declined to comply with a judge’s recent order to turn over the documents he allegedly stole from Google.
In the same order, Levandowski was also banned from working on research related to LIDAR, a critical component of Uber’s self-driving technology. A few days earlier, the same judge referred the case to the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing.
Levandowski was fired “for cause,” according to a copy of the termination letter obtained by the Washington Post, and he has 20 days to contest the decision if he so chooses.
The lawsuit is yet another black eye for Uber that hasn’t healed. The company has faced a rash of bad press and executive departures, including the exit of its New York general manager on Tuesday following news last week that the company had underpaid its New York drivers for over two years. The mistake could cost Uber tens of millions of dollars.
The company is also expected to wrap up its internal investigation into its workplace culture this week, prompted by a viral blog post in February in which a departing employee described Uber as being wracked with sexual harassment and gender discrimination issues.
Uber’s board will reportedly be presented with the results by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who co-led the investigation, on Wednesday. However, a separate human resources investigation of sexual harassment at Uber is said to be picking up steam.