- Randeep Hothi of University of Michigan alleges that Musk falsely accused him of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees.
Randeep Hothi, a doctoral student in Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan is suing Tesla CEO Elon Musk for defamation. News reports say Hothi, a Sikh-American, an outspoken Tesla critic and short-seller, has filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court in California alleging that Musk falsely accused him of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees.
Business Insider says the 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.
Hothi’s attorney D. Gill Sperlein told Courthouse News that although the lawsuit was filed on Aug. 4, the complaint was not made public until Aug. 7, due to court backlogs.
Through his Twitter account @skabooshka, Hothi fact-checked Musk and Telsa’s published claims regarding the electric vehicle manufacturer’s automation, technology and production processes.
Sperlein told Court News that Hothi started the fact-checking social media account “as a social experiment through crowd-sourcing information related to his social science doctorate work.”
Citing the lawsuit, news reports say, last year, Tesla filed a workplace harassment restraining order against Hothi. 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.
Prior to that, in 2018, Hothi observed Tesla’s production at its Fremont, California, factory, determining production fell below the rate promised Musk. He also documented construction of Tesla’s Model 3 assembly line tent, sharing photos with his Twitter followers. Bloomberg Businessweek says this “detailed reporting” was Hothi’s “main claim to fame in the TSLAQ community.” Bloomberg says Hothi’s “production estimates were reliable enough to be cited widely by both bulls and bears.”
That June, when Tesla erected a massive tent to house a new Model 3 assembly line, Hothi flew a drone to peer inside the tent, revealing that the cars were largely being built by hand. “This was a major scoop, undercutting the company’s hyping of its sophisticated robotic assembly line,” the Bloomberg report said.
Tesla apparently investigated Hothi, recording his license plate number. When Hothi entered the Fremont sales center in February 2019, Tesla’s security system flagged his license plate and he was confronted by a security guard. A few days later, on April 19, 2019, Tesla filed a civil restraining order against Hothi claiming he trespassed, stalked, harassed and endangered Tesla employees. He was also accused of hitting a Tesla security guard with his vehicle.
Court News reported that Tesla eventually dropped the harassment case against Hothi “after the judge assigned to the case ordered the car manufacturer to produce video evidence documenting Hothi’s reckless driving.” But Musk apparently had not let the dispute go, the report adds. Musk has openly voiced distaste for short-sellers like Hothi and has rallied against the practice for years, even going so far as to sell Tesla-branded short shorts on the company’s online store.
Bloomerg Businessweek says “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.”