San Francisco: In a big first-round win for Indian American student and Tesla critic Randeep Hothi, a US court has rejected Elon Musk’s argument against him.
Hothi had sued Musk, claiming that the accusation made by the Tesla CEO that he “almost killed” his factory employees is defamatory.
A judge in California state has now rejected Musk’s argument that the suit filed by Hothi was baseless and against his free speech. The judge said that Hothi has shown that he can win the lawsuit, according to media reports.
A doctoral candidate in Asian languages and cultures at the University of Michigan, Hothi created the @skabooshka Twitter account where he fact-checked Musk and Tesla’s “published claims regarding the electric vehicle manufacturer’s automation, technology and production processes,” www.courthousenews.com had reported in August last year.
According to Hothi’s lawyer, his client started fact-checking Tesla via a Twitter account “as a social experiment through crowd-sourcing information related to his social science doctorate work”.
Beginning in 2018, Hothi, donning the role of a social activist, observed Tesla’s production at its Fremont, California-based factory. He also documented the construction of Tesla’s Model 3 assembly line tent, sharing photos of his Twitter followers.
Tesla also apparently investigated Hothi from its end.
In 2019, Hothi saw a Tesla-owned vehicle with roof-mounted cameras on the road that was recording audio, video and data.
“Hothi followed the vehicle, observed it, photographed it and posted the photographs on Twitter. At no point did Hothi either drive recklessly or endanger the safety of the occupants of the Tesla vehicle,” the defamation lawsuit read.
A few days later, Tesla filed a civil restraining order against Hothi claiming that he trespassed, stalked, harassed and endangered Tesla employees.
The harassment case against Hothi was dropped by Tesla later. But Musk apparently did not let the dispute go.
In an exchange of emails with Aaron Greenspan, the owner of the litigation publishing website PlainSite.org, Musk said: “As for the people you mention below, they have actively harassed, and in the case of Hothi, almost killed Tesla employees.”
“What was a sideswipe when Hothi hit one of our people could easily have been a death with 6 inches of difference,” the email further said, which has been cited in Hothi’s lawsuit.
“As one of the highest-profile and wealthiest individuals in the world, Musk knew or should have known his accusations concerning Hothi would be conveyed to a worldwide audience and would result in the accusations receiving significant publicity,” the lawsuit claimed.
According to Hothi’s bio on the University of Michigan’s website, he is interested in how minority communities – specifically diasporic Sikhs – creatively respond to the world around them.
“My 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,” the bio read.