Ex-SpaceX Staff Alleging Harassment and Discrimination Sue Company

Ex-Employees Sue SpaceX and Elon Musk Over Alleged Gender Discrimination and Harassment

by Faruk Imamovic
Ex-SpaceX Staff Alleging Harassment and Discrimination Sue Company
© Getty Images/Apu Gomes

On Wednesday, SpaceX and its CEO, Elon Musk, were sued by eight former employees who claim they were unlawfully dismissed after raising concerns about gender discrimination and harassment within the company. The lawsuit, filed in California state court, paints a stark picture of the work environment at SpaceX, alleging that Musk’s vision for space travel is undermined by a corporate culture reminiscent of the “dark ages.”

The plaintiffs argue that women at SpaceX are treated as objects, evaluated based on their physical appearance, and subjected to lewd banter. Those who challenge this environment are allegedly told they can seek employment elsewhere. According to the complaint, the eight employees were terminated after participating in the creation of an open letter in 2022 that criticized Musk and urged for a more inclusive workplace culture. This letter was reportedly signed by at least 400 other employees and highlighted the inconsistent enforcement of SpaceX’s “No A**hole” policy.

The complaint states that Musk personally ordered the termination of these employees following the release of the letter. SpaceX has not commented on the lawsuit, maintaining its typical silence towards media inquiries. Previously, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell had stated a commitment to enforcing the company's zero-tolerance harassment policy but justified the firings by claiming the letter made other employees feel “uncomfortable.”

Claims of a Hostile Work Environment

The lawsuit elaborates on the alleged hostile work environment at SpaceX, attributing much of the workplace misconduct to Musk's own behavior. It cites several crude posts made by Musk on Twitter, now rebranded as X, including a proposal to create a Texas university named “TITS” with the slogan “Ds [women’s bra size] would get degrees.” Another post mentioned in the complaint includes Musk’s comment after a harassment report, where he joked about using “Elongate” as a scandal name, accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk© Getty Images/Apu Gomes

According to the plaintiffs, such comments from Musk have emboldened other employees to engage in similar behavior. The lawsuit claims that SpaceX engineers often used crude and demeaning names for products, such as referring to a camera on the Falcon rocket as the “Upskirt Camera.” This term was allegedly used to describe a camera positioned to view the bottom of the rocket’s second stage.

The complaint also describes an incident involving a SpaceX HR director who, during an internal event, allegedly dismissed concerns of harassment by saying, “I’ve never been harassed; I must not be hot enough.”

Seeking Justice and Accountability

The former employees involved in the lawsuit are seeking unspecified monetary damages for lost wages, earnings, and other benefits, as well as compensation for emotional distress. They believe SpaceX has failed to address the harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation they experienced.

This lawsuit follows similar complaints made to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by former SpaceX employees. These complaints asserted that the terminations violated protections for employees engaging in “concerted protected activities.” One of the plaintiffs, Tom Moline, previously told CNN that SpaceX’s management turned a blind eye to ongoing mistreatment, harassment, and abuse, much of which he claimed was encouraged by Musk’s words and actions.

Earlier this year, SpaceX responded to a consolidated complaint from the NLRB with its own lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of the NLRB’s structure. This move reflects the broader legal and cultural battles SpaceX faces as it navigates accusations of fostering a discriminatory and hostile work environment.

Broader Implications for Tech and Aerospace Industries

The allegations against SpaceX and Musk highlight ongoing issues of gender discrimination and harassment within the tech and aerospace industries. These sectors, traditionally dominated by men, have faced increasing scrutiny over their workplace cultures and treatment of women and minority groups.

The SpaceX lawsuit is particularly significant given the company’s high profile and Musk’s public persona. As one of the most influential figures in technology and space exploration, Musk’s behavior and the culture at SpaceX could have wider implications for industry standards and corporate accountability.

The plaintiffs' demands for a more inclusive and respectful work environment underscore the growing movement towards equity and justice in the workplace. Their case serves as a reminder that even the most forward-looking companies must adhere to basic principles of dignity and respect for all employees.

The Path Forward

As the lawsuit progresses, it remains to be seen how SpaceX and Musk will respond to these serious allegations. The outcome could set important precedents for employee rights and corporate responsibility in the tech and aerospace sectors.

The former employees' courage in speaking out highlights the importance of addressing and rectifying issues of harassment and discrimination. Their actions may inspire other workers in similar situations to advocate for their rights and push for meaningful change within their organizations.

The claims against SpaceX and Musk are a stark reminder that achieving a workplace free from harassment and discrimination is an ongoing challenge that requires vigilant enforcement of policies and a commitment to fostering an inclusive and respectful environment.

Elon Musk