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SpaceX fires employees who wrote letter slamming Musk’s “embarrassing” behavior

A SpaceX logo seen on the outside of its headquarters building.
Enlarge / SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on April 19, 2022.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

SpaceX has reportedly fired at least five employees who circulated a letter that urged company executives to condemn CEO Elon Musk’s public behavior.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell explained the firings in an email to staff, according to a New York Times article. “The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell wrote, according to the NYT. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”

Shotwell’s email to staff also said, “Blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is not acceptable.” Shotwell urged employees to “stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time to do your best work. This is how we will get to Mars.”

Reuters reported that the number of fired employees was at least five.

Letter cited allegation against Musk

The internal letter drafted by employees was circulated inside SpaceX on Wednesday and revealed in an article by The Verge. The letter said SpaceX executives should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior” and that the company “must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.”

The letter called out “recent allegations against our CEO and his public disparagement of the situation,” a reference to a Business Insider report last month that SpaceX “paid a flight attendant $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct claim” against Musk in 2018. Musk denied the allegation, and Shotwell defended him in a company-wide email.

“Personally, I believe the allegations to be false; not because I work for Elon, but because I have worked closely with him for 20 years and never seen nor heard anything resembling these allegations,” Shotwell wrote to staff at the time, according to CNBC.

Musk’s behavior called a “source of embarrassment”

The employee letter that led to the firings said that “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks.” The letter accused the company of not applying its policies equally to executives and employees, writing that “SpaceX must establish safe avenues for reporting and uphold clear repercussions for all unacceptable behavior, whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day.”

The letter was a result of a collaboration by “employees across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles,” it said. The letter requested an in-person meeting with executives to discuss the employees’ requests.

“Our unique position requires us to consider how our actions today will shape the experiences of individuals beyond our planet. Is the culture we are fostering now the one which we aim to bring to Mars and beyond?” the letter asked.

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