Musk denies sexually harassing flight attendant; Tesla shares sink

May 20 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc chief executive Elon Musk has denounced in a report “totally false” allegations that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016.

Shares of the electric car maker slipped more than 10% on Friday as Musk’s sexual misconduct allegations and political comments could threaten to hurt Tesla’s brand and sales.

Business Insider reported Thursday that Musk’s private company, SpaceX, paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a sexual harassment claim from an unnamed private flight attendant who accused Musk of exposing himself to her.

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The article quoted an anonymous person who said she was a friend of the flight attendant. The friend had provided a statement as part of the private settlement process, according to the article.

“I challenge this liar who claims her friend saw me ‘exposed’ – only describe one thing, anything (scars, tattoos, …) that is not known to the public. can’t do so, because it never happened,” Musk wrote on Twitter Thursday night.

Reuters was unable to verify the Business Insider account.

Musk and SpaceX did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on Business Insider’s story or the billionaire’s tweets.

In a statement to Reuters on Friday, Business Insider said, “We stand by our story which is based on documents and interviews and which speaks for itself.”

Allegations of sexual misconduct “have the potential, from a public relations perspective, to turn people off,” said Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid.

Friday’s stock drop knocked about $66 billion off Tesla’s market value and put the stock at its lowest level since last August.

Elon Musk speaks at the Automotive World News Congress at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook//File Photo

Shares have fallen sharply since early April as Musk’s plan to buy Twitter sparked concerns over distraction and China’s COVID lockdown measures hurt Tesla production.

Ross Gerber, CEO of Tesla investor Gerber Kawasaki Wealth Management, expressed concern that Tesla is so heavily dependent on one person, Musk, but he believes his liberal customers will continue to buy the cars of Musk, even if they don’t like what he says. , since Tesla’s mission is clear.

POLITICAL ATTACKS?

Business Insider quoted the flight attendant’s friend as saying that in addition to supposedly exposing himself, Musk rubbed the flight attendant’s thigh and offered to buy her a horse if she “did more” during an in-flight massage.

The flight attendant came to believe that her refusal to accept Musk’s proposal hurt her chances of working at SpaceX and prompted her to hire a lawyer in 2018, according to Business Insider.

In 2018, the rocket company paid $250,000 in exchange for a promise not to pursue the claims and included a nondisclosure agreement that prevented the flight attendant from talking about it, Business Insider said. The news site did not name the friend or the flight attendant.

Musk, who is in the midst of a controversial effort to buy Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), said Wednesday he would vote Republican instead of Democrat, predicting a “dirty tricks campaign against me” would follow.

On Thursday night, Musk tweeted for the first time, “Attacks on me must be viewed politically – that’s their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and yours. right to freedom of expression.”

In the initial tweet, he didn’t specifically mention the allegations in the Business Insider article.

He also tweeted that the article was intended to interfere with the acquisition of Twitter.

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Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Joey Roulette, additional reporting by Ross Keber, Noel Randewich; editing by Frances Kerry, Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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