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Teslost: Elon Musk Settles Defamation Suit Brought by Critic Sikh American Randeep Hothi

Teslost: Elon Musk Settles Defamation Suit Brought by Critic Sikh American Randeep Hothi

  • The young Sikh American, a vocal member of the TSLAQ short-seller community on Twitter, sued the CEO for falsely accusing the CEO of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees.

After saying he’d never “surrender an unjust case,” Elon Musk has reportedly settled a defamation suit brought by critic Randeep Hothi. The young Sikh American, Hothi, a vocal member of the TSLAQ short-seller community on Twitter, made headlines as a skeptic of Tesla’s gigafactory plans and “full self-driving” technology. The doctoral student in Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Tesla CEO in August 2020, for defamation, alleging that Musk falsely accused him of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees.

Lawyers representing Hothi said in a statement that Musk asked to settle the nearly three-year-old case back in March. In a separate statement released on May 1, Hothi said, he “brought this case to defend my work, clear my name, and send a message,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “I believe I’ve accomplished that, thanks in no small part to Musk, whose own behavior over the last year has highlighted the need to scrutinize his every word and deed. This case was about taking a stand, not seeking fame or money. I feel vindicated.”

Hothi tweeted that he accepted the alleged offer, “for a modest $10k,” adding that he “look[s] forward to receiving a check from him in the mail.” 

Before Hothi filed the lawsuit, Tesla filed a workplace harassment restraining order against him. According to the lawsuit, Hothi was driving when he saw a Tesla-owned vehicle with roof-mounted cameras on the road. The vehicle was recording audio, video and data. “Hothi followed the vehicle, observed it, photographed it and posted the photographs at Twitter. At no point did Hothi either drive recklessly or endanger the safety of the occupants of the Tesla vehicle,” the lawsuit claims, according to Court News. 

Business Insider said Hothi’s lawsuit was filed in regard to an email Musk sent to Aaron Greenspan, the founder of law transparency site PlainSite. In response to questions from Greenspan about Musk’s history of speaking out against Tesla critics and whistleblowers, Musk mentioned Hothi by name. Greenspan then posted screenshots of the messages to Twitter.

The LA Times notes that Hothi’s case “depended on donations from friends and supporters, and those funds were not inexhaustible. If he had lost the case, he could have been required to pay the billionaire’s legal fee.”

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According to a Bloomerg Businessweek report, “Hothi is part of the counterrevolution — an informal yet obsessive global fraternity of accountants, lawyers, hedge fund managers, former Tesla employees, and few others, who just love trolling.” The report says that for a few years “they’ve been posting sick burns and negative indicators in equal measure with a $TSLAQ hashtag appended. They research executive departures, lawsuits, customer complaints, and accidents, adding the occasional allegation of financial chicanery and a passel of puns to suggest that Tesla’s end is nigh.”

In a Jan. 22 article on Hothi, Bloomberg said he was born in Punjab and grew up in Fremont, “not far from the Tesla factory.” The report described him as “a voracious reader and devout Sikh,” who “was obsessed with philosophy in high school but had trouble focusing.” After attending a local community college and excelling there, Hothi transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy in 2009.

In his University of Michigan profile, Hothi says he is “interested in how minority communities — specifically diasporic Sikhs — creatively respond to the world around them.” Noting that “Sikhs in the West are undergoing something of a renaissance” in art, literature, media, and politics, he said “Sikhs also face a host of acute challenges – xenophobia, the memory of state-sponsored violence in India, and the articulation of Sikhism. This presents an opportunity to examine how a globally dispersed community responds to the challenges of cross-cultural encounter while also developing their own Sikh institutions.” Hothi said that his interest in Sikh Studies “is inspired by a real need to contribute knowledge to Sikh communities while also contributing to academic debates in the humanities and social scientists.”

When his case was first filed, “all Hothi wanted was a simple apology from Musk,” the LA Times noted. He hasn’t received one to date.

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