'Free Speech Absolutist' Fires SpaceX Employees For Writing Open Letter

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SpaceX, a private rocket company owned by a man who professes to be a “free speech absolutist,” has fired the employees it says authored an open letter criticizing its owner’s antics on Twitter.

The owner in question is, of course, Elon Musk, whose public escapades have escalated sharply since he rushed into an ill-advised deal to purchase Twitter in April.

A circulating draft of the letter, first reported by The Verge earlier this week, resulted in the terminations of an unknown number of staffers Thursday afternoon.

Authors of the letter urged SpaceX executives to “swiftly and explicitly” separate the company “from Elon’s personal brand,” and argued that the billionaire’s recent “behavior in the public sphere” is a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment” for the company.

“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,” the letter read. “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.”

Musk has also long promoted an official “no asshole” workplace policy at SpaceX along with a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, both of which the authors asked management to clarify and enforce consistently.

“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,” they wrote.

SpaceX and Musk himself are both facing separate sexual harassment allegations.

Numerous former employees told The Verge last year that SpaceX’s HR department hasn’t taken harassment complaints seriously. That includes Ashley Kosak, a former mission integration engineer, who described a work environment in which she “couldn’t stop getting sexually harassed” in a blog after she quit.

Musk is also facing fallout from a high-profile allegation of sexual harassment involving a former flight attendant, which he called “utterly untrue.”

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell emailed employees Thursday after the terminations and criticized the letter as a form of “overreaching activism.”

“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 in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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