SpaceX president defends Elon Musk over sexual misconduct claims: ‘I believe the allegations to be false’

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk participates in a postlaunch news conference inside the Press Site auditorium at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, following the launch of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.
NASA/Kim Shiflett

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell defended Elon Musk in an email to employees last week responding to sexual misconduct allegations directed at the CEO, CNBC has learned.

“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 company-wide email sent on Friday and seen by CNBC.

Musk has denied the allegations, which claim he propositioned a flight attendant onboard one of SpaceX’s private jets in 2016. Musk told Business Insider – which reported the allegations and also that the flight attendant was paid $250,000 severance after confronting the company – that there is “a lot more to this story,” describing it as a “politically motivated hit piece.” Neither Musk nor SpaceX’s vice president of legal, Christopher Cardaci, denied the payment in statements to Business Insider.

Shotwell emphasized in her email that she “will never comment on any legal matters involving employment issues” before noting Musk publicly denied the allegations as “utterly untrue” in a tweet.

Shotwell, second-in-command at SpaceX and the company’s top female executive, also noted that SpaceX has a “ZERO tolerance” policy for harassment, adding that every accusation is taken seriously and investigated, “regardless of who is involved.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Shotwell’s email.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell
Jay Westcott / NASA

Shotwell has previously described SpaceX as having a “no a——” policy, though the company has faced complaints before. In December, Ashley Kosak, a then-employee of SpaceX, alleged in an essay that the company is “rife with sexism” and that its human resources team does not protect victims of harassment or abuse.

The company is headquartered in Los Angeles and employs about 10,000 people across the United States.

The allegations against Musk come as SpaceX looks to raise $1.7 billion in new funding, CNBC reported on Sunday. The round values SpaceX at about $127 billion, making it the most valuable private U.S. company, according to CB Insights data.

SpaceX has raised billions over the past few years to fund work on two capital-intensive projects: the next generation rocket Starship and global satellite internet network Starlink.

Sophie Tremblay

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