SpaceX, the private rocket company, on Thursday fired employees who helped write and distribute an open letter criticizing CEO Elon Musk’s behavior, three employees with knowledge of the situation said.
Some SpaceX employees began circulating the letter, which denounced Musk’s activity on Twitter, on Wednesday. The letter called the billionaire’s public behavior and tweets “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment” and called on the company to rein in it. Musk is currently closing a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter.
By Thursday afternoon, SpaceX had fired some of the organizers of the letter, according to the three employees and an email from Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. In her email, obtained by The New York Times, she said the company had investigated and “terminated multiple employees involved” in the letter.
“The letter, the requests and the overall process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and harassed and/or angry that the letter pressured them into signing something that did not reflect their views,” Ms. Shotwell wrote. “We have too much critical work to do and we don’t need this kind of far-reaching activism.”
It was unclear how many employees were laid off. James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The open letter followed recently published allegations of sexual misconduct against Musk amid his controversial takeover of Twitter. On Thursday, Musk addressed Twitter employees for the first time since his takeover bid via video call to answer questions from him.
In May, Insider reported that a flight attendant said Musk proposed to her for a sexual massage during a flight to London in 2016. The flight attendant said he also exposed himself to her and offered her a horse, according to the article, details of which were not disclosed. independently verified by The Times.
Mr. Musk called the allegations “completely false” and joked about horses and their genitalia on Twitter. Last month, Shotwell said in an email to SpaceX employees that he “personally” believed the sexual harassment allegations against Musk were false.
At SpaceX, Musk is rarely challenged by his own workers, said the three employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Earlier this month, he notified company workers by email that they must spend at least 40 hours in the office or be fired.
The open letter about Musk’s online activity called for SpaceX leaders to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful behavior on Twitter” and “uniformly define and respond to all forms of unacceptable behavior.”
In her email to staff, Ms. Shotwell wrote: “It is not acceptable to cover thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails asking them to sign letters and complete unsponsored surveys during business hours.”
“Stay focused on the SpaceX mission and use your time to do your best work,” he continued. “This is how we will get to Mars.”