Wednesday, July 20, 2016 | 2 a.m.
SAN FRANCISCO — After a lawsuit was filed against the high-speed train startup Hyperloop One, accusing some of its top figures of harassment and mismanagement, the company is fighting back.
Hyperloop One sued the plaintiffs in the original case on Tuesday, accusing the four men — one of whom is a company co-founder — of trying to start a competing venture and to poach employees to do so.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, further muddies the water surrounding Hyperloop One, which was built on an idea of the billionaire Elon Musk that the time for superhigh-speed train travel had arrived. (Musk is not involved in the company.)
At the heart of the company’s premise is a way to design a train that could shuttle passengers or cargo through pneumatic tubes much more quickly than over traditional tracks. Musk initially contended that such a system could speed up travel from the Bay Area to Los Angeles to roughly an hour, though Hyperloop One is focused more on moving objects than people.
But four men, led by Brogan BamBrogan, a founder, accused Hyperloop One’s principal founder, the venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, and others of harassing them and eventually firing them wrongfully.
Among their contentions: Pishevar and another board member, the investor Joe Lonsdale, pushed to hire relatives to do work for the company, while mismanaging the business or being largely absent except for parties.
In its complaint, Hyperloop One contends that BamBrogan and the other plaintiffs concocted an “unlawful” plot to create a competitor, while they were also abusive and failed to perform.
BamBrogan, who led the first lawsuit, was described in Tuesday’s court filing as being prone to making “profane, erratic, sexist and inebriated” outbursts.
“Today’s lawsuit demonstrates that these four men staged a failed coup to try to take over Hyperloop One and then conspired to start their own competing company,” Orin Snyder, a lawyer for Hyperloop One, said in a statement. “Hyperloop One’s board and management are unified in standing up to this illicit attack on the company, and today the company is stronger than ever in its mission to bring the Hyperloop to the world.”
A spokesman for BamBrogan and the other plaintiffs said in a statement, “Hyperloop One’s cross complaint goes beyond revisionist history — it’s pure fiction, and that will be shown by the evidence.”
According to the company’s lawsuit, BamBrogan and the other plaintiffs — Knut Sauer, formerly Hyperloop One’s vice president for business development; David Pendergast, former assistant general counsel; and William Mulholland, former vice president for finance — tried to stage a coup by seizing control of the company. Failing that, they sought to set up a “Hyperloop Two” and hire away other employees.
Hyperloop One sought to push back against one of the most salacious elements of the original lawsuit. BamBrogan had argued that at one point he felt threatened by Afshin Pishevar, Shervin Pishevar’s brother and then the startup’s chief legal officer, after Afshin left what was described as a hangman’s noose on his chair.
In its filing, Hyperloop One said the rope was actually given a “lasso knot, not a hangman’s knot” and was a joking reference to a cowboy hat that BamBrogan regularly kept on his desk. Still, the company agreed that Afshin Pishevar’s action was inappropriate and fired him.
Hyperloop One also responded to a claim that Shervin Pishevar paid the company’s outside public relations consultant, with whom he had once had a relationship, an inflated fee. In its filing, the company said its public relations company’s responsibilities had grown commensurately. It also disputed claims that Pishevar pressured prospective investors in the startup into investing in his own venture capital firm.