Ex-director accuses iRobot of firing him for pointing out the home-cleaner droids broke safety, govt regulations

Bloke takes auto-vac firm to court in wrongful termination gripe


A former iRobot employee is suing the manufacturer for firing him after he highlighted alleged failures to comply with regulations.

Janusz Pankowski claims the robo-vac specialists unfairly dismissed him from his position as director for compliance back in May 2018 following a row over whether products were erroneously labeled as being in compliance with safety requirements, and other state, federal, and international rules.

To hear Pankowski tell it to a US district court in Massachusetts this week, the executive's trouble started in January that year when he brought up 14 instances where iRobot's gear had been affixed with labels claiming it to be in compliance with requirements despite failing to meet them.

"Before Pankowski joined iRobot, iRobot was found to have violated California Energy Commission regulations related to its battery chargers," the complaint [PDF] stated. "Despite this violation, iRobot continued to sell non-compliant battery chargers which exposed the company to a multimillion dollar penalty for its second offence."

Fearing further legal problems for the gizmo maker, Pankowski said he raised the issue with various members of iRobot's operations team to no avail.

In the following months, the complaint alleged, Pankowski uncovered a number of compliance problems, including a failure to pay internet sales taxes in the EU, failing to adhere to Russian data encryption laws, and failing to adhere to German labeling standards.

The case is not, however, so cut and dry. All this time, there was no reported shortage of infighting between Pankowski, his department, and members of the operations team, to the point where human resources had to get involved. The complaint noted that, as the internal compliance probes were ongoing, an operations team member accused him of inappropriate conduct and, as part of the investigation, he was asked to write a letter of apology.

These confrontations and claims, it is alleged, were used by iRobot for the basis of its decision to fire Pankowski in May. He, however, claimed that the whole thing was an effort to suppress the company's inability to meet its compliance requirements.

"Pankowski's employment was terminated because he refused to prohibit further illegal action or to rectify illegal action that had already taken place," the complaint reads. "His termination was in violation of public policy."

iRobot, for its part, provided the following statement to The Register:

iRobot takes the compliance of its products very seriously, and they meet all necessary state, federal and international requirements. iRobot strongly opposes Mr Pankowksi's claims and will defend itself vigorously. As this is an ongoing legal matter, iRobot cannot provide further comment at this time.

The case, filed in a Massachusetts state court, has since been assigned to a US district court judge. ®

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