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Update: SpaceX Sexual Harassment Claim Against Elon Musk

Elon Musk has been facing heavy media scrutiny over the past several months. One of the most significant discoveries was the May announcement that SpaceX, the aerospace firm Musk founded, paid $250,000 to a contracted employee after she made a sexual harassment claim against Musk in 2018. This money was intended to buy her silence, according to Business Insider. This announcement came just months after five former employees alleged that SpaceX as a whole has a harassment problem.

Situations like this are unfortunately common in many industries. Here’s what you need to know about the allegations against Musk, the impact this had on the purported victim, and what you can do if you’ve suffered similar harassment.

Musk and Allegations of Sexual Harassment

The original incident occurred in 2016. Musk was flying in one of SpaceX’s corporate jets, and the contract worker was a member of the jet’s cabin crew. According to a collection of emails, signed declarations, and other SpaceX records, the crew member alleged that Musk propositioned her and exposed himself to her against her will in a private section of the plane. Furthermore, he allegedly offered to “buy [her] a horse” in exchange for an erotic massage.

The crew member had previously confided to friends that she had been encouraged by unnamed SpaceX employees to get a masseuse license when she was hired as a flight attendant. The purpose of the license was to provide Musk with massages during his flights, and it was heavily implied that she would get more work if she had the additional certification.

While this is outside the normal bounds of many flight attendant positions, SpaceX specifically emphasizes on-demand massages for company executives and certain passengers of the corporate fleet. However, the company did not pay for her masseuse license and opted not to hire a specific masseuse for the flights. They also did not require the license of other crew members.

It was while giving Musk a massage that he sexually harassed her. In the declaration written and signed by the crew member’s friend, it is stated that she refused because she “is not for sale” and will not “perform sexual favors for money or gifts.”

Penalized for Refusing Propositions

After she refused the proposition, the crew member alleged that she was offered less work with SpaceX in retaliation. Sources close to her also highlighted the anxiety and stress the incident caused her. Due to her fear of further reprisals, the crew member did not report the incident until 2018. At this point, she contracted a sexual harassment attorney, discussed her situation, and filed an incident report with SpaceX.

After filing this report, she attended a mediation session requested by SpaceX and personally attended by Musk. During this mediation, Musk, SpaceX, and the crew member achieved a severance agreement that included:

  • A $250,000 severance payment
  • A requirement that she would not sue for her claims
  • Strict non-disclosure clauses barring her from discussing the severance payment or information about Musk, SpaceX, or Tesla.
  • Strict non-disparagement clauses barring her from talking negatively about Musk or his businesses

It is interesting to note that Musk now professes a belief in free speech and claims that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” implying that openness and public awareness of wrongdoing are the most effective ways to prevent corruption and other misconduct.

The crew member upheld her part of the contract. However, her friend, who was not bound by any such agreement, chose to alert Business Insider after Musk began his bid to purchase Twitter. The friend stated, “When you choose to remain silent […] you do become a part of that machine that allows someone like Elon Musk to continue to do the horrible things that he’s done.”

Despite the signed statement and other evidence unearthed by the Business Insider investigation, Musk has claimed that the accusations are false, called Insider’s source a liar, and stated that the entire article was a “hit piece” intended to damage his reputation. He did not comment on whether the severance payment occurred.

Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is unfortunately common, particularly in situations with power imbalances like the crew member faced when standing up to SpaceX. However, the legal landscape has changed significantly since 2018.

At the time, companies were permitted to require employees to agree to arbitration with their employer if they filed sexual assault or harassment claims. By including these arbitration clauses in an employment contract, employers could prevent employees from filing lawsuits and having their claims heard in court. It is unclear whether one of these clauses was included in the crew member’s employment contract, but it appears likely.

That is no longer the case, though. As of March 2022, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 into law. This act bans companies from compelling employees to agree to arbitration for sexual assault or harassment. It renders all mandatory arbitration clauses on these subjects unenforceable, including future and pre-existing contracts. Workers may voluntarily agree to arbitration, but their employer cannot prevent them from taking their claims to court.

This may have significantly altered the outcome of the crew member’s claims against Musk. If she had had the option to take her claims to court, his actions would have become public earlier, potentially protecting other workers from similar harassment. Furthermore, California juries frequently award millions of dollars to victims of sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation who take their cases to court.

Suppose the crew member had had the opportunity to take her claims to court. In that case, she may have held Musk accountable for his behavior, brought unsavory behavior at SpaceX to public attention, and received significant compensation for the harm she suffered.

Fight Back Against Workplace Sexual Harassment with the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C.

If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, you can learn from the SpaceX employee’s case. She made the excellent decision to work with a sexual harassment attorney. The legal advice she received was likely responsible for the severance payment SpaceX granted her.

You have more options than she did, though. Now that mandatory arbitration is no longer permitted for sexual assault and harassment, you can also take your claims to court. By working with the expert employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, you can choose the best way to hold your employer accountable for harassing or abusing you. Schedule your consultation today to learn more.