A former Tesla engineer has filed a defamation lawsuit against the company, the latest twist in her years-long legal battle against her ex-employer.
Cristina Balan is an engineer who resides in the Seattle area and worked at Tesla from 2010 to 2014. She has claimed for years she was pushed out for voicing concerns over the quality of parts used on Tesla vehicle interiors. She’s been in arbitration in the years since on a number of claims. Balan acknowledged that she has lost on allegations of wrongful termination, retaliation and gender discrimination, but she says parts of her case remain alive.
The new defamation suit, filed last week in federal court in Seattle, stems from a 2017 news story from the Huffington Post about Balan and her quest to take her concerns directly to Elon Musk, after the Tesla CEO encouraged employees to reach out to him on major issues. Tesla later responded to the article — which has been removed from Huffington Post but lives on in archive form — disputing Balan’s claims and saying “despite her own misconduct, she was never fired from Tesla. She voluntarily resigned – not just once, but on multiple occasions.”
In the lawsuit, Balan alleges that Tesla will go to great lengths to maintain its image when people speak out against the company.
Tesla’s conduct was willful and demonstrates a desire to dominate and to control, not just financial returns, but the individuals laboring for them.
Tesla’s conduct shows desire to control its public perception and a willingness to catastrophically damage individuals who oppose that view, be it a corporation or a family, without regard for American Civil Law.
Balan is representing herself in the lawsuit. She told GeekWire that she lost confidence in lawyers in general during the arbitration process, though she’s still receiving legal advice.
Balan told GeekWire that she’s spent her career in a “man’s world” as an automative designer and engineer. Her legal fight against Tesla is an effort to show “American women and the world that even if you are the coolest company in the world or the CEO that holds the Kool-Aid recipe the law must be respected and applied.”
Tesla declined to comment on the new lawsuit. In its 2017 response to the Huffington Post article, the company called Balan’s claims “completely nonsensical.” Tesla went on to say that she spent company time working on a “secret project,” took an unapproved business trip to New York City on the company dime and illegally recorded internal conversations.
Balan mentions and denies these claims in the defamation suit. She says in court documents that she performed “critical work on Tesla’s vehicles, as memorialized by her engraved name on Tesla vehicle battery modules.” Balan’s resume also includes a three-year stint at Boeing, and today she has her own design business based in Washington state focusing on vehicles, planes and luxury items.
In the defamation suit, Balan is seeking “punitive damages” and an injunction requiring Tesla to retract “damaging allegations” against her.
Here’s the full defamation lawsuit: