Technology

TechScape: Is Elon Musk really being harassed? | Technology

If you were to believe his recent tweets, poor Elon Musk may be the richest victim of bullying in the world. In February, Tesla’s chief executive accused the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of harassing him and his company with “endless” investigations in retaliation for his vocal opinions about regulators.

“The SEC appears to be targeting Mr. Musk and Tesla for relentless investigation, in large part because Mr. Musk remains a vocal critic of the government,” Alex Spiro, attorney for the South African billionaire and his company, wrote in a letter. last month.

Sign up for our weekly technology newsletter, TechScape

The letter, filed with the U.S. District Judge who oversaw a previous settlement between Tesla and the SEC, said the agency’s “exaggerated efforts appear calculated to chill its exercise of First Amendment rights.”

The charges come as Musk faces heightened scrutiny of his social media posts; allegations of worker discrimination and animal abuse in his businesses; and Tesla vehicle recalls.

While the court will have to decide whether Musk is indeed being unfairly targeted, there’s no denying that his companies have been slapped with a staggering array of legal and regulatory lawsuits in recent months. Here are some of his biggest problems lately.

All atwitter

The letter sent by Musk in February came days after Tesla revealed that she had been subpoenaed in November by the SEC. The agency reportedly requested more information about Musk’s compliance with a 2018 settlement.

That lawsuit was filed after Musk tweeted in 2018 that he had “secured funding” to take Tesla private at $420 per share – when, according to the SEC, he did not. As a result of the settlement, Musk and Tesla had to pay $20 million each in civil fines and Musk resigned as chairman of the board.

As part of the deal, Musk would also have to submit any future tweets that could impact Tesla’s share price to the company’s attorneys for verification. The new subpoena – filed just 10 days after Musk quizzed his Twitter followers on whether he should sell his 10% stake in Tesla, triggering a sale – claims that has not been the case.

Yesterday, Musk asked a district judge to terminate the deal and block the SEC subpoena. His lawyers said the 2018 consent decree resolving SEC securities fraud charges should not allow “travelling and unlimited investigations” of the Tesla CEO, while impeding his constitutional right to freedom of expression.

“The SEC lawsuit against Mr. Musk has crossed the line into harassment, which is the epitome of bad faith,” Musk’s attorneys wrote to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan.

The tweeted poll sent Tesla shares plummeting and sparked a new round of trouble for Musk, including an investigation into him and his brother Kimbal Musk over allegations of insider trading. According to a filing, Kimbal sold $108 million worth of Tesla stock just days before Musk’s tweet, leading officials to investigate whether he had any advance notice.

In response, Musk tweeted that he was “building a case.”

“I didn’t start the fight,” he said on Twitter, “but I will finish it.”

These aren’t Musk’s only battles on social media: his Twitter account, which boasts 77 million followers, has long been a source of drama. In 2019 he was tried for defamation over tweets he posted about a British cave diver; he was eventually exonerated.

In March 2021 an investor sued Musk and the company, accusing them of violating the SEC’s agreement regarding his tweets, and a second lawsuit was filed later that year on behalf of a number of Tesla shareholders , who said Musk’s tweets had caused “billions of dollars in losses”.

The lawsuit also addresses Musk’s recent Twitter feud with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat of Massachusetts, which reportedly drove the stock price down another 9.6% in December.

“Musk remains unfazed and continues to post on Twitter and social media about topics that are important to Tesla and its shareholders, and which ultimately impact Tesla’s stock price,” the lawsuit states.

Concrete example

In addition to trying to thwart attacks from financial regulators and investors, Musk is being targeted by his own employees over working conditions at Tesla factories and offices.

Tesla was served with a full discrimination complaint in February by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of dozens of workers at its flagship factory in Fremont, California.

Experts say the lawsuit is likely to succeed and could lead to structural changes in the way the company operates. (Tesla called the action “misguided.”) It comes after a separate employee at the same factory was awarded $137 million for racial discrimination — a settlement the company is still trying to get thrown out.

“When a single worker sues Tesla, the company may be motivated to sweep the allegations under the rug. But here the potential for real systemic change is much greater,” said Veena Dubal, professor of labor law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Meanwhile, six women continued the company about sexual harassment in its factories, which two of them described as “endemic”.

Actions-reactions

Tesla would face at least five lawsuits from customers claiming defective vehicles have resulted in accidents. In February, the family of a Florida man who died in a car crash filed a civil lawsuit against the company, claiming the suspension system in his Tesla vehicle failed and caused the fatal crash.

In a separate lawsuit filed in February, another Tesla customer claimed faulty self-driving technology in his Tesla Model 3 caused the vehicle to crash into a stationary fire truck, killing his wife. This complaint indicates that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is aware of at least 12 incidents in which Tesla’s software failed to respond to emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

Musk previously tweeted: “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaches 10 times less chance of a crash than an average vehicle.”

In late 2021 and early 2022, Tesla issued 10 U.S. recalls over four months, some under pressure from NHTSA.

What will it be in practice?

While the list of lawsuits filed against Musk and Tesla grows almost unbelievably long, the company’s bottom line has shown a surprisingly limited response, posting record profits in recent earnings reports.

The company’s recent success in the face of both legal difficulties and industry-wide struggles with supply chain issues and shortages shows Tesla’s resilience, said Haris Anwar, principal analyst at Investing.com.

“With Tesla in high growth mode and producing record profits, investors will ignore the latest regulatory action at this initial stage unless it snowballs into something bigger,” he said.

If you want to read the full version of the newsletter, sign up to receive TechScape in your inbox every Wednesday.