Former Tesla engineer Cristina Balan’s defamation lawsuit against her former employer will not be public, the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals said on Monday.
After a Federal District Court Judge ruled that Balan could take her defamation claims against Tesla to court in a public trial last year, Tesla appealed the decision due to a still-active arbitration agreement that Balan signed during her employment. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the automaker’s attorneys, and Balan will now have to pursue the claims in arbitration.
Balan initially filed the lawsuit in 2017, who claimed that Tesla defamed her after she left the company at least three years prior. A Huffington Post article revealed that a Tesla spokesperson claimed Balan was secretly recording meetings with supervisors and other employees. The claims made it difficult for Balan to find other opportunities, the Los Angeles Times said.
Balan sued Tesla in Seattle’s federal district court. A judge eventually decided that the case’s elements should be discussed in a public trial, but Tesla’s lawyers appealed, stating that Balan had agreed to resolve disputes when she accepted her job. Members of the appeals panel unanimously agreed with Tesla’s attorneys and said that the case should continue while remaining in arbitration. Tesla’s claims of illegally taping employees brought forward a matter of “arising or relating to” her employment because it had “some direct relationship” with her job. This related to Tesla’s claims that Balan’s arbitration agreement was still active and ultimately activated the Ninth Circuit’s decision to put the case into arbitration.
Balan is representing herself and doesn’t have an attorney. She said she was disappointed but will continue to press her claim against Tesla. “Not too many people realize what this means for American workers,” she said, adding that she feels companies can come after employees without the consequences of a public trial.
Balan said she was forced to resign from Tesla in 2014 after stating that there were disagreements over the Model S and Tesla’s choice of parts. Balan said that there were issues that she brought to the company’s attention, but she was demoted and then required to resign from her position. None of the claims have been confirmed or concretely identified as fact. While Tesla has had some quality issues relating to panel gaps and others, the company has confronted any safety issues or parts replacement requirements from the NHTSA, which handles those types of claims. Tesla was recently required to replace eMMC chips in the Model S and Model X after they began to fail after routine and normal usage.