Elon Musk Discloses Former Employee’s Disability in Twitter Exchange; later apologizes
In a rare development, Musk later apologized and said he misunderstood the employee’s situation after mocking him on Twitter
A Twitter Inc. employee trying to gain clarity as to whether he was fired was mocked by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, who chatted openly about the worker's disability status to other people on Twitter — before apologizing a day later.
Halli Thorleifsson, a senior director whose design firm Ueno was bought by Twitter in 2021, tweeted at Musk on Monday that his access to a work computer had been revoked, and that he wasn't able to receive an answer from human resources as to whether he still worked at the company. In public replies, Musk asked what kind of work Thorleifsson was doing and what its value was, then sent memes and emoji mocking Thorleifsson's responses. Thorleifsson later said HR reached out to him and confirmed he was no longer a Twitter employee.
Musk then publicly discussed Thorleifsson's disability with a third party in a separate tweet. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that US employers keep their employees' disability status confidential. The ADA also offers certain protections to workers with disabilities, and prohibits discrimination, such as decisions in hiring or firing, that are based on disability.
“The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm,” Musk wrote. “Can't say I have a lot of respect for that.” He also suggested that Thorleifsson only tweeted at him for “a big payout.”
Thorleifsson later detailed the limitations of his muscular dystrophy with followers, adding that he was able to write threads on Twitter through his phone, given that it allows him to type with one finger. His disability, he added, wasn't a major issue in the pre-Elon era of Twitter.
“I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance,” he said. “But as I told HR (I'm assuming that's the confidential health information you are sharing) I can't work as a hands-on designer for the reasons outlined above.
Thorleifsson didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter, which disbanded its communications team following Musk's purchase, couldn't be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, Musk said he had chatted with Thorleifsson over a video call and “would like to apologize for my misunderstanding of his situation.” He added, a day after saying he had fired the designer, that Thorleifsson was “considering remaining at Twitter.”
Musk's turnaround is a rare move for the executive, who has been known for doubling down on attacks against critics and former employees, particularly on Twitter. In 2018, he called a British caver who helped rescue a trapped Thai soccer team a “pedo guy.” That man unsuccessfully sued Musk for defamation.
In December, Musk publicly attacked Yoel Roth, Twitter's former safety head. Musk publicly posted excerpts of Roth's doctoral dissertation, which suggested LGBTQ dating apps should create a safe space for the minors who were using the apps despite their terms of service. Musk then accused the former Twitter executive of being an advocate for child sexualization — a baseless accusation that exposed Roth to online abuse and caused him to leave, and then sell, his home.