SpaceX has fired five employees after they wrote and circulated an internal letter that was critical of the rocket maker’s founder and CEO Elon Musk, whose public behavior they described as a “distraction” and “embarrassment.”
The letter, first reported on by The Verge, alluded to Musk’s reaction to a recent sexual harassment allegation as a “disparagement” of the situation and stated that “SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values.”
“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter read. “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. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”
The New York Times first reported on the firings and two people familiar with the company told CNBC that at least five employees involved in circulating the letter had been terminated.
An email written by SpaceX President/CEO Gwynne Shotwell, and reviewed by the Times, said the company had investigated and “terminated a number of employees involved” with the letter.
“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 Times. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”
Last month, Shotwell defended Musk in an email to employees, responding to sexual misconduct allegations directed at the CEO, according to CNBC.
“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 in a companywide email seen by CNBC.
Musk has denied the allegations, which claim he propositioned a flight attendant on one of SpaceX’s private jets in 2016, calling them “wild accusations.”
In a response to Business Insider, which reported the allegations and that the flight attendant was paid $250,000 severance after confronting the company, Musk said there is “a lot more to this story,” describing it as a “politically motivated hit piece.” Neither Musk nor SpaceX’s vice president of the legal department, Christopher Cardaci, denied the payment in statements to Business Insider.