SAN FRANCISCO – Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr led a months-long internal investigation at Uber into allegations by a former employee that the company operated a program aimed at stealing competitors’ trade secrets, an in-house attorney for Uber testified Wednesday.
Angela Padilla, vice president and deputy general counsel at Uber Technologies Inc., made that testimony at an evidentiary hearing in a San Francisco federal court in Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber. Her statements come a day after the ex-employee, Uber’s former manager of global intelligence Richard Jacobs, testified about the allegations made in a letter sent by his lawyer.
Padilla identified Wilmer partners Randall Lee and Heather Tewksbury as leading the investigation, and said Uber retained the firm after Jacobs’ attorney sent the 37-page letter to the company on May 5.
Lee and Tewksbury, who were both in the courtroom audience Wednesday, declined to comment. Representatives of the firm did not respond to a request for comment. Lee was previously a regional director at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and a federal prosecutor, while Tewksbury previously served in the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
It is not clear what the investigation ultimately yielded. Padilla testified Wilmer delivered a report to the “Special Matters Committee” of Uber’s board earlier in November. “They’ve kept it very confidential to the Special Matters Committee until it’s read out,” she said.
Lead Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan said during the hearing that Uber paid $4.5 million to Jacobs as part of a mediated settlement—after he was fired by Uber in April—and another $3 million to his attorney.
Padilla did not dispute Verhoeven’s characterization of the deal with Jacobs. She also said the agreement included a $1 million payment for Jacobs to work as a “consultant” to help Wilmer in its investigation. The agreement also spelled out that Jacobs was not eligible to be re-employed by Uber, she said.
The letter written by Jacobs’ attorney is still under seal. But comments made by Padilla and other lawyers in court makes clear that he alleged a range of corporate misbehavior, including the targeting of competitors’ trade secrets. The letter was ultimately brought to light by prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, who sent it to the judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup.
Much of the questioning of Padilla by Verhoeven—which stretched roughly two hours—centered on why she had not informed Uber’s outside counsel handling the Waymo trade secrets litigation about the letter. She said she was told by Uber’s compliance division that doing so might “taint” the internal investigation. She said the letter was shared with Salle Yoo, who was general counsel at the time, and with then-CEO Travis Kalanick.
Padilla testified that Jacobs threatened to go to the authorities with his allegations and said she believed he was “trying to extort” Uber. She said that in order to “take the air out of his extortionist balloon,” the company retained Wilmer to launch the investigation and ultimately disclosed the allegations to federal prosecutors at the Northern District of California, Southern District of New York, and Main Justice in Washington.
She said the disclosure to federal prosecutors was made by Damali Taylor, a white-collar defense partner at O’Melveny & Myers in San Francisco.
Padilla also said numerous times that she believed Jacobs’ claims were made-up and “fantastical,” although she also added at one point: “There may be some things along the edges that may be true.”
Her comments drew skepticism from Alsup, who noted the large sum Uber ultimately paid Jacobs.
“To somebody like me, an ordinary mortal … that is a lot of money,” Alsup said. “And people don’t pay that kind of money for BS. And you certainly don’t hire them as consultants if you think that everything they’ve got is BS.”
Wilmer is not the first firm to conduct an internal investigation at Uber. After a former Uber engineer published a blog post in February portraying the company’s work culture as biased against women and alleging that managers ignored sexual harassment complaints, Uber brought on a team from Covington & Burling led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A months-long investigation by the firm yielded a lengthy list of recommendations for internal reforms.