May 20 (Reuters) - Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk has
denounced as "utterly untrue" claims in a news report that he
sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016.
Shares of the electric carmaker skidded more than 10% on
Friday amid concerns that the alleged sexual misconduct and
Musk's political comments could threaten to damage Tesla's brand
Business Insider reported on Thursday that Musk's private
company SpaceX paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a sexual
harassment claim from an unnamed private jet flight attendant
who accused Musk of exposing himself to her.
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 have a challenge to this liar who claims their friend saw
me 'exposed' describe just one thing, anything at all (scars,
) that isnt known by the public. She wont be able to
do so, because it never happened," Musk wrote on Twitter late on
Reuters was not able to verify the Business Insider account.
Musk and SpaceX did not respond to Reuters requests for
comment on the Business Insider story or on tweets by the
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."
The sexual misconduct claims "have the potential from a PR
perspective to turn people off," said Guidehouse Insights
analyst Sam Abuelsamid.
Friday's share drop knocked about $66 billion off Tesla's
market value and put the stock at its lowest since last August.
The shares have fallen sharply since early April as Musk's
plan to buy Twitter sparked concerns about distraction and as
China's COVID lockdown measures hurt production at Tesla.
Ross Gerber, CEO of Tesla investor Gerber Kawasaki Wealth
Management, said he is concerned that Tesla relies so heavily on
a single person, Musk, but he believes his liberal clients will
continue buying Musk's cars, even if they don't like what he
says, since Tesla's mission is clear.
Business Insider quoted the friend of the flight attendant
as saying that in addition to allegedly exposing himself, Musk
rubbed the flight attendant's thigh and offered to buy her a
horse if she would "do more" during an in-flight massage.
The flight attendant came to believe that her refusal to
accept Musk's proposal had hurt her opportunities to work at
SpaceX and prompted her to hire a lawyer in 2018, according to
In 2018, the rocket company paid $250,000 in exchange for a
promise not to sue over the claims and included a nondisclosure
agreement that prevented the flight attendant from speaking
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 contentious effort to buy
Twitter Inc, said on Wednesday that he would vote
Republican instead of Democrat, predicting a "dirty tricks
campaign against me" would follow.
On Thursday evening, Musk first tweeted: "The attacks
against me should be viewed through a political lens this is
their standard (despicable) playbook but nothing will deter me
from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech."
In the initial tweet, he did not specifically mention the
allegations in the Business Insider article.
He also tweeted that the article was meant to interfere with
the Twitter acquisition.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Joey Roulette, Additional
reporting by Ross Keber, Noel Randewich; diting by Frances
Kerry, Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis)