Ride-hailing company Uber has fired the former head of its self-driving car programme months after he was accused of stealing secrets from Google’s autonomous vehicle project.

Anthony Levandowski joined the embattled company in August last year, when Uber acquired self-driving start-up Otto, where he was a co-founder.

Before he founded Otto, Levandowski worked at Google’s self-driving car project, which became known as Waymo. It is alleged that he stole more than 14,000 internal documents from the project and took them to Uber.

Waymo sued Uber in February of this year, and was granted a preliminary injunction against the company in May. The case hinges around lidar, ‘light detection and ranging’, technology which allows autonomous vehicles to survey and sense the environment around them.

Waymo alleges that Levandowski knowingly stole the technology to start Otto, and carried it to Uber once acquired. The injunction required Levandowski to be taken off any lidar-related projects, and ordered the return of Waymo documents. Levandowski was removed from his post at the end of April, though remained employed by the ride-hailing company until this point.

Termination of employment

In his termination letter which was obtained by several publications, Uber general counsel Salle Yoo claimed Levandowski had impeded both the lawsuit and Uber’s own internal investigations. Levandowski opted not to provide testimony or hand over evidence regarding his use of documents at Google during the court proceedings.

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The letter, dated 26 May, says that Levandowski was sent letters asking to comply with requests for cooperation on 20 April and 15 May, and had not complied with either.  It also stated that he had breached his employment terms by failing to return or destroy documents from Waymo, his previous employer. The letter gave Levandowski until 15 June to comply and prevent the termination from coming into force.

Uber continues its legal battles this year, which have so far seen it ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars for underpaying its New York drivers, hit with a lawsuit by rival Lyft who accuses it of monitoring its drivers, and a raft of harassment claims.

The case between Uber and Waymo will head to trial in October of this year.