Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM

What’s old is new again.

Uber Technologies Inc. last week sued four former employees who worked in the ride-hailing company’s corporate intelligence team seeking to force them to return company equipment and documents.

Uber’s lawyers at Covington & Burling claim in the suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Nov. 28 that lawyers for the four former employees—Matthew Henley, Nicholas Gicinto, Edward Russo and Jacob Nocon—disclosed that they were holding onto company hard drives and laptops, and that the former employees had planned to use privileged documents from the trove of company material to demonstrate that Uber officials defamed them.

The suit is another example of Uber’s legal fallout following an inflamatory letter from its manager of global intelligence, Richard Jacobs, over a year after it derailed a scheduled trial date in the company’s driverless car trade secrets showdown with Waymo LLC.

Jacobs made allegations that Uber’s intelligence team surveilled, spied on and stole trade secret from competitors. When the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s office sent a copy of the letter it received to U.S. District William Alsup, he pushed back the trial date and held a hearing to try to determine whether Uber should have handed the letter over to Waymo.

In the wake of the Jacobs imbroglio, Henley, Gicinto, Russo and Nocon sued their former colleague for defamation claiming that his allegations about them were false and damaged their reputations. All four have since left Uber and, according to Uber’s new lawsuit, their lawyer has taken aim at Uber and executives with further defamation claims.

Matthew Umhofer of Spertus, Landes & Umhofer in Los Angeles, a former federal prosecutor who represents the four former employees, quickly responded to Uber’s lawsuit with an answer filed Nov. 30. In it, Umhofer claims that the material Uber claims is privileged, including three documents attached to a draft complaint he sent to the company’s lawyers, could “prove criminal conduct at Uber.”

Umhoffer contends that his clients cooperated with the company during its internal investigation of Jacobs’ allegations, and in the company’s defense in the Waymo lawsuit. The company didn’t complain about their possession of company property or privileged material until after Uber received a draft of their amended defamation complaint adding the company and executives, Umhoffer claims.

“The draft complaint included a description of facts concerning a number of deeply troubling practices at Uber that have not been publicly revealed and—unlike the Jacobs allegations—are actually true,” Umhoffer wrote. “The conduct includes potentially criminal initiatives against competitors, secret capabilities embedded in Uber’s smartphone applications, and offensive intrusions into the privacy of users.”

Uber spokesman Matt Kallman, in an email statement, said that the company doesn’t “object to these former employees making any claims they wish.”

“What we do object to is their walking off with company property and their misuse of privileged information for personal gain,” he wrote.

Read Uber’s complaint:

Read the employees’ answer:

 

Read more: 

Employees’ Suit Against Analyst Behind Infamous ‘Jacobs Letter’ Raises New Issues for Uber

Letter From Ex-Uber Employee’s Lawyer Describes Targeted Trade Secret Theft, Discovery Evasion

Uber In-House Lawyer Gets Grilling From Judge Over Inflammatory Letter