My battle with Tesla: I want to clear my name before I die

My battle with Tesla: I want to clear my name before I die

A Tesla whistleblower who has battled Elon Musk and his company through the courts for a decade told BBC News he is still publicly apologizing.

Engineer Cristina Balan was once such a rising star at Tesla in the US that her initials are etched into the batteries inside every Model S electric car.

But after raising safety concerns about a design flaw that could affect the car’s brakes in 2014, he claims management became hostile, and he lost his job.

He won a wrongful dismissal case but was later publicly accused by Tesla of using his resources for a “secret project” – a charge that amounted to embezzlement which is a crime under US law.

Ms Balan has consistently denied the allegations, and has taken legal action but years later, she is still waiting for her case to be fully heard in open court in California.

Tesla did not respond to BBC News’ request for comment. The firm has not provided further details about its allegations.

Ms Balan said she was determined to prove her innocence for her son’s sake:

“I’m his hero,” he said.

“I’m the mother who makes airplanes and cars.”

And he didn’t want her to grow up believing her mother was a thief.

Towards the end of our Zoom call, Cristina Balan took off her wig and tearfully told me she had just finished breast cancer treatment.

“I want to clear my name. I hope Elon Musk has the decency to apologize,” was his message to the company’s billionaire boss.

And she said that while she was in remission from stage-3B breast cancer, her biggest fear was that she might not live to see her final day in court.

Ms Balan shared with BBC News various communications between herself and Tesla since she worked there.

He got off to a good start: he recalled chatting with Mr Musk in the lunch line at the staff canteen and said he was happy and successful – living his dream, having grown up in Romania with a lifelong passion for cars.

“Everything went south when I realized they were hiding some critical security issues,” he claimed.

Ms Balan worries the carpet buckles under some pedals – a simple but deadly design flaw – and says customers have complained.

“If you can’t push the brakes, other people, outside of Tesla, can get hurt,” he said.

“They just have to say, ‘We realize the carpets are bad — just get them out of the car.'”

But the manager dismissed her concerns and became hostile, Ms Balan claimed.

So he sent an email to Mr. Musk, who directly encouraged employees to come to him personally with any concerns that could harm Tesla’s reputation.

“I sent him two emails,” Ms Balan said.

“I texted him before I left [Tesla], telling him we were all in danger.

“I thought in my head, ‘He still wants to do what’s right for Tesla.'”

But it failed – and Ms Balan went on to lose her job.

BBC News put its claim to Tesla but has not received a response.

The company’s website says: “Safety is the most important part of every Tesla.

“We design our vehicles to exceed safety standards”.

Another Tesla whistleblower, Lukasz Krupski, claimed to have had a similar and unrelated experience after emailing Mr Musk about concerns about working conditions at Tesla’s headquarters in Norway.

And Ms Balan said other Tesla staff may be “afraid to speak up”.

His case will eventually be heard in California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is her only chance to prove the truth professionally, Ms. Balan believes.

“I don’t want to give up my career,” he said.

“And I know that if I don’t win this, it doesn’t matter how good I am.

“Everyone will see what Tesla has to say about [me], so my career is gone.

“I don’t want it.”

Mr Musk’s leadership style is notoriously unconventional – but some of those who have worked for him say he gets results.

Dolly Singh, who worked at SpaceX for Mr Musk between 2008 and 2013, previously told BBC News that he was an “extraordinary leader”.

“If that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has,” he said, in 2022.

“Yes, it’s tiring working for Elon.

“But I think it’s a proving ground like no other.”

US Attorney Gordon Schnell, of the Constantine Cannon firm, said the improvement

number of technology sector workers become whistleblowers.

The stakes are high because technology products have “such a broad impact on the world,” he said.

“It really touches all of our lives,” he said.

But the advice of Mr. Schnell, who specializes in representing whistleblowers, is to explore every possible option before making any claims public.

“There are so many protected channels in so many different industries that whistleblowers can take, where they can get confidential concerns to the appropriate government agency best suited to address those concerns,” he said.

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