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Tesla lawyers want court to reconsider Musk’s tweet as ‘threat’ amid labor dispute


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Tesla lawyers have asked a federal appeals court to reconsider the ruling that CEO Elon Musk unlawfully threatened employees with loss of stock options in a 2018 Twitter post amid a union rally.

Three judges of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, in a March ruling, upheld an order from the National Labor Relations Board to remove the tweet. The panel also upheld an order to rehire a laid-off Tesla employee with back pay.

The case arose from the organization of United Auto Workers at a Tesla facility in Fremont, California.

Tesla lawyers want the full 17-member court to rehear the case. The panel’s ruling, they argue in a Monday night filing, violates Supreme Court and appeals court precedents regarding First Amendment protections of free speech. And they said the employee in the case was properly fired for giving false information during an investigation into employee harassment.

Musk tweeted on May 20, 2018, “Nothing is stopping the Tesla team at our auto plant from voting for a union. Could do that tmrw if they wanted to. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2x better than when the factory was UAW and everyone is already getting health care.”

The 5th Circuit panel ruled in March that “substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet is an implied threat to end stock options in retaliation for unionization.”

The panel also said there was evidence that the fired employee “was fired for lying about protected union activities and was not related to his job performance or Tesla’s legitimate business interests or workplace rules.”

It is unclear when the full court would vote on whether or not to rehear the case. The judges on the panel that ruled in March were James Dennis, nominated to the court by former President Bill Clinton; Leslie Southwick, nominated by former President George HW Bush; and Cory Wilson, nominated by former President Donald Trump.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.