A group of SpaceX employees who circulated an open letter criticizing the company’s founder, Elon Musk, have been fired from the company. Musk has recently been the subject of sexual harassment allegations, and hundreds of employees reportedly signed the letter calling on SpaceX to take a tougher stance on sexual harassment by “hold[ing] all leadership equally accountable” for unacceptable behavior.
The letter criticized Musk’s public behavior and said it was a distraction for employees at SpaceX and was not conducive to a positive image of the company among the public. “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter read in part, as reported by the New York Times. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”
Musk has long been a controversial figure, with actions like smoking marijuana on Joe Rogan’s show to being sued by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for tweets that affected the share prices of his companies. But in recent months the tide of public opinion about him seems to have shifted from seeing him as a lovable rogue to something more concerning. He has been accused by a flight attendant of sexual harassment for which SpaceX paid a $250,000 settlement (an accusation that Musk denied), and a Tesla investor has sued him for creating a “toxic” workplace including racial discrimination and harassment.
With Musk’s offer to buy Twitter, his tweeting has gained even more attention, with him replying to tweets critical of Twitter employees and sparking a wave of online attacks against them. In the open letter from SpaceX employees, as described by the Times, the employees say that the company should condemn this “harmful Twitter behavior” and that “SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.”
The letter was first circulated on Wednesday this week, and the Times reported that a number of employees who organized and distributed the letter were fired by Thursday afternoon. It has since emerged that at least five employees have been fired related to the letter, as reported by Reuters. According to labor lawyers consulted by The Verge, these firings may have been illegal under labor laws protecting workers’ rights to organize to better their working conditions.