Anthony Levandowski, a vice president of technology at Uber and reported close pal of CEO Travis Kalanick, has been terminated from the position he's held just over a year, originally heading up the company's self-driving car division. Two weeks ago the company threatened Levandowski's termination if he refused to comply with a court order to turn over thousands of digital files he is accused of taking with him in early 2016 when he left Waymo, the self-driving car division of Alphabet that grew out of a project from Google X. Now, as the New York Times reports, Levandowski has been let go according a memo circulated at the company on Tuesday.
The SF Business Times confirms the news with Uber, and confirms that Eric Meyhofer will continue to lead the self-driving car division at Uber Meyhofer replaced Levandowski in April after Levandowski recused himself from certain kinds of work in light of the litigation.
The move by Uber appears to be an effort to distance itself from any alleged wrongdoing by Levandowski this after the company's legal team had tried to argue for Levandowski's Fifth Amendment rights in the case on his behalf. Separately, Levandowski pleaded with the judge not to force him to choose between his constitutional rights and his livelihood (though maybe he's not doing so bad given the deal, theoretically all settled, that he made last year to sell his self-driving trucking startup Otto to Uber for $680 million).
In the memo to employees obtained by the Times, Angela Padilla, Uber’s associate general counsel for employment and litigation, writes, "Over the last few months Uber has provided significant evidence to the court to demonstrate that our self-driving technology has been built independently. Over that same period, Uber has urged Anthony to fully cooperate in helping the court get to the facts and ultimately helping to prove our case."
In the case, brought by Waymo/Alphabet back in February, Levandowski has been accused of downloading 14,000 files to a personal laptop prior to his leaving the employment of Alphabet to take the job with Uber. Earlier this month, US District Judge Judge William Alsup ruled that the civil case could move forward to trtial, and separately referred the case as well for possible criminal prosecution to the US Attorney.
When Levandowski initially tried to plead the Fifth, Alsup responded to Uber's filing saying, "If you think for a moment that I'm going to stay my hand, because your guy is taking the Fifth Amendment, and not issue a preliminary injunction to shut down what happened here, you’re wrong," noting that the company was within its rights to compel an employee to turn over documents or else risk termination.