A former mechanic for Bird is alleging in a lawsuit that the company breached its agreement with the City of Santa Monica to provide safe, durable scooters.

Screenshots of Bird’s internal communication show that an operations specialist asked mechanics in November not to take scooters off the road or report them as damaged if they had missing screws, grips or kickstands, loose necks, handlebars, bolts or brains, or broken reflectors.

Bird operates in Santa Monica under the City’s Shared Mobility pilot program, which requires scooter companies to provide highly durable, safe devices that are designed to withstand the demands of outdoor and shared use. It also stipulates that scooters carry a front white light and a rear red light, working brakes and a warning bell.

The former Bird mechanic who filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court Jan. 29, Matt Fisher, told the operations specialist, Marwan Metwalley, that he felt the policy Metwalley had outlined would put riders’ lives in danger.

“It’s hard to watch this neglect, waste and uninformed decision making,” Fisher wrote in a message on Bird’s Slack account. (Slack is a workplace messaging app.) “I apologize if I’m out of place here, but being honest is what I’m about.”

Metwalley replied that upper management had set the policy.

“This is what we were told by upper management, we are still making adjustments and figuring things out,” he wrote. “However your hostile attitude is not appreciated.”

Fisher said his manager called him into a meeting with other supervisors shortly after to discuss the exchange. He alleges an operations supervisor, Claudia Hellstrom, told him to stop bringing up safety concerns on Slack.

In early December, Fisher was informed by employment agency Target CW that his engagement with Bird had ended. He had been working for the company as a charger and mechanic in downtown Santa Monica since February 2017 and had received excellent performance reviews.

“My client worked for Bird for over a year and did a great job across the board, but everything went bad for him when he started making sure safety was actually taken into consideration,” said Carney Shegerian, Fisher’s attorney.

Shortly after his termination, according to the lawsuit, a competing scooter company hired Fisher as a mechanic. Before he started work, he spoke to ABC 7 News about how he believed Bird fired him because he spoke up about safety issues. The competing scooter company withdrew his offer after the article was published in December. The lawsuit alleges a company representative told Fisher he had “ruined his career” by going public with his concerns.

Fisher claims in the lawsuit that he has been “blacklisted from the scooter industry” and is suing for lost past and future income and employment benefits, damage to his career, and psychological and emotional distress. He is also alleging that Bird’s conduct toward him constitutes oppression, fraud and/or malice and is seeking punitive damages.

The lawsuit joins a class action lawsuit filed by a Santa Monica-based personal injury attorney in October in claiming that Bird has neglected safety. The lawsuit claims two of the eight plaintiffs suffered injuries in accidents caused by mechanical failures.

“Bird and all the other scooter companies have a great idea to keep fewer cars on the road, but they have to watch out for safety,” Shegerian said. “In the manner that these companies leave scooters out on the street, they’re open to easily getting broken or having problems, and they need to take care of that.”

Bird said it ensures its scooters are safe to ride.

“While we are not able to comment on the specifics of former contractors or ongoing litigation, we can share that as a transportation company the safety of our riders, chargers, mechanics and all others who interact with our vehicles is our utmost concern,” a Bird spokesperson said. “As a result, we take the safety and maintenance of Birds very seriously and provide thorough instructions on how to safely ride, maintain and care for our vehicles.”

 

madeleine@smdp.com

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