Cristina Balan thought her looking out for the company would make her superiors happy; she was not prepared for what happened next. Replying to an open invitation to escalate complaints directly to Elon Musk, she claims she tried to make her employer aware of alleged safety concerns regarding the floor mats in the Tesla Model S, as well as what she considered sketchy dealings on supplier contracts that her supervisors were taking part in.
According to Balan, she had specifically addressed concern about the way the floor mats were curling up underneath the gas and brake pedals in the company’s then-flagship car. The mats’ interference with the pedals presented a possible danger with the driving of the car. Balan says that she pointed out that there have been similar deaths associated when other car brands. She says she expressed worry that dealings with suppliers were being done on a relationship basis instead of focusing on price and quality. After receiving a response from her Human Resources representative, Balan was asked to head over to the security office for further discussion.
She says that meeting was instrumental in what happened to her career at Tesla. She claims that since Tesla was still working to gain a foothold in the automobile sector at the time, they were reluctant to recall the floor mats and reevaluate their suppliers. She says she was asked to brush it under the rug and never speak of it again. When she refused, Balan says Tesla forced her to resign. Later, she filed an arbitration suit with the company.
Shortly after the incident happened, the Huffington Post picked up the story and ran an article about the case. In response, Tesla communications executive Dave Arnold demanded that the newspaper publish a 600-word letter regarding Balan and her accusations. In it, he made many unsubstantiated assertions about Balan, including stories about her misusing company funds and taking unapproved trips on the organization’s dime. None of this came with any evidence, and HuffPost eventually took down the article due to a lack of sources.
But the damage was done. Cristina Balan’s name was tarnished, and it would be unlikely for her to find an engineering job in the sector ever again. Nobody wants to cross Elon Musk. After attempting to sue for defamation, Tesla’s lawyers pointed to her employment contract and directed her to arbitration once again.
Recently, however, Marsha J. Pechman, senior judge of the U.S. District Court in Seattle, disagreed.
She asserted that some of Balan’s claims were eligible to be tried in federal court.
Now, as Balan puts it, Tesla’s lawyers have attempted to give her the runaround by delaying her court date with a continuance that pushed the hearings to March. She is using the extra time to prepare to represent herself at the 9th Circuit. In her suit, she’s asking for legal expenses and whatever punitive damages the court sees fit. More importantly, she wants to clear her name.
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