Toyota prevails in whistle-blower case
ORANGE, Calif. — An arbitrator has awarded Toyota Motor Corp. $2.6 million in damages from a former in-house attorney who accused the automaker of withholding evidence in rollover cases and made confidential documents public to bolster his allegations.
On Tuesday, retired federal Judge Gary Taylor ordered Dimitrios P. Biller to pay Toyota $2.5 million for unauthorized disclosures of confidential information and $100,000 in punitive damages. Taylor also issued a permanent injunction instructing Biller to return the confidential documents that he obtained during his employment.
Some of the internal papers were subpoenaed last year by a congressional investigation into safety issues with Toyota vehicles.
A message for Biller’s attorney, Jeffrey Allen, was not immediately returned yesterday.
Biller, who now runs LTD Consulting in Pacific Palisades, Calif., did not immediately return a message left yesterday at his business.
In his ruling, Taylor said Biller believed he was acting as whistle-blower, but that did not give him the right to disseminate a client’s confidential information.
Biller worked for Toyota for four years, defending the Japanese automaker from lawsuits that blamed rollover accidents on faulty manufacturing. He left the company in 2007 and claimed he was protected in his disclosures because he spoke out as a matter of public safety.
Taylor disagreed, saying even if true, that did not trump the attorney-client privilege.
“Mr. Biller is still bound by a greater rule: the attorney’s underlying fundamental duty to safeguard his client’s confidences, attorney-client privileged or not,’’ the judge wrote.
A Toyota official said: “We are gratified that the credibility of Toyota’s legal organization and the integrity of our legal professionals have been validated.’’
The judge noted in his order that arbitration agreements are usually confidential, but he allowed Toyota to make the ruling public to neutralize the effect of one-sided and unauthorized disclosures during arbitration.