Uber threatens to fire key executive in Waymo dispute

SAN FRANCISCO—Uber is threatening to fire a key executive accused of stealing self-driving car technology from a Google spin-off unless he waives his constitutional right against self-incrimination so the ride-hailing service can comply with a court order.The development raises the possibility that Uber may end up dumping Anthony Levandowski, whose expertise in robot-controlled cars is the main reason that the ride-hailing company bought Levandowski’s startup for $680 million (U.S.) nine months ago.Until last month, Levandowski had been running Uber’s self-driving car division. Although he no longer is doing that, he remains a vital part of Uber’s effort to develop a fleet of robot cars so its service eventually will no longer have to rely on people to pick up passengers.Waymo, a self-driving car company started by Google, alleges Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents containing its trade secrets before he founded the startup that he sold to Uber.Levandowski has asserted his rights under the Fifth Amendment since Waymo filed its lawsuit in February .Article Continued BelowBut Uber is warning Levandowski that he may lose his job unless he waives those rights and reveals whether he took any Waymo documents. The San Francisco company made the threat in a May 15 letter that became public in a court filing late Thursday.Any admission by Levandowski that he possesses the Waymo documents could embroil him in even deeper legal trouble. That’s because Waymo’s allegations in the civil case have been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco for a potential criminal investigation under an unusual order issued last week by U.S. District Judge William Alsup.Uber had been standing by Levandowski’s right use his Fifth Amendment protections until last week when Alsup issued another decision requiring the company to return any documents belonging to Waymo by May 31.