Tesla Accused in Suit of Firing Worker to Cover Up Copper Theft

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A former employee of Tesla Inc.’s massive battery plant outside of Reno, Nevada, claims in a lawsuit that he was fired from his $18,000-a-month job because the company, and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, wanted to cover up rampant theft of copper wire at the site.

Lynn Thompson said in the complaint that he noticed millions of dollars worth of copper wire being measured and cut, put on pallets and hauled off site. He said that on multiple occasions, starting in April 2018, he reported the theft of the copper wire to Tesla’s senior management, including Musk, and contractor ONQ Global.

In June 2018, Thompson said he witnessed some people loading copper wire onto a truck and reported it to Tesla security, who called local law enforcement. A few days later, Thompson was told by Tesla management that he wasn’t allowed back at the gigafactory, according to the complaint, filed Friday in federal court in Nevada.

“Since this time, Mr. Thompson has learned that Tesla and Musk pressured ONQ GLOBAL to stop allowing him on the work site and subsequently end his work at Tesla because of the outside reporting to law enforcement and internal reporting to senior management,” according to the complaint. “Tesla was afraid of the information that plaintiff learned and wanted to prevent the information from being disclosed to the media and shareholders.

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

Copper is viewed as an economic bellwether given its usage in everything from wires to pipes to automobiles. The metal was rebounding starting in the second half of 2017 from a broad slump in commodities prices in 2015 and 2016. Rising prices usually attract thefts of electric wires at construction sites or at power grids, or even from an entire car, as those can easily be sold to scrap yards or recyclers for decent money.

Musk revealed at an internal meeting in June 2018 that the value of unaccounted for, and possibly stolen, material was $37 million to date that year, according to the complaint.

Thompson is seeking unspecified compensatory damages and punitive damages against Tesla.

The case is Thompson v. Tesla Motors Inc., 21-cv-976, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada.

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