SpaceX Accused Of Sexual Harassment As Fight With Ex-Employees Intensifies
SpaceX discriminated against women, joked about sexual harassment and fired workers for raising concerns, seven former employees allege in California civil rights complaints viewed by Bloomberg.Elon Musk’s
The California-based workers, who were fired in 2022 after circulating an open letter critical of Musk’s behavior, argue that the aerospace company’s actions the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The law bans sex-based discrimination and retaliation against employees who raise concerns Their claims were detailed in filings with the California Civil Rights Department sent to SpaceX last month.
SpaceX said in itsNLRB accusations are likely to harm the company’s reputation and If the company loses, it might also have to reinstate workers with backpay. The employees were all engineers, according to their lawyer Laurie Burgess. Now, because of the complaints in California, SpaceX faces the threat of losing to the ex-workers at the state level, too. The California CRD can seek compensatory and punitive damages.
SpaceX, which didn’t respond to inquiries,denied wrongdoing in the NLRB case. Companies typically have 30 days to respond to California CRD complaints.
Cases filed with the California CRD are investigated by agency can dismiss them, pursue mediation, sue the company or greenlight workers to file lawsuits themselves. Ex-employees said in interviews that they hope their civil rights complaints will bring more scrutiny to the company’s culture, and show current workers they aren’t alone in their concerns.
“Bringing things to light is the first step tomaking it better,” said Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the complainants, in an interview.
concerns about SpaceX stretch back to their early days at the company, according to Holland-Thielen. When she was hired in March 2018, she became a “level 1” despite having similar experience to men designated senior level engineers, according to her complaint.
Even afterHolland-Thielen was excluded from assignments, meetings and decisions because of her gender, she alleges. After concerns with her manager that a male colleague was taking credit for her work, she received a performance review accusing her of being “too emotional” and saying she “should be more humble,” according to her filing.
“I was left out of so many meetings that I was supposed to be in; I was left out of so many decisions that were my decision to make,” Holland-Thielen said in an interview. “I was forgotten on projects; I was forgottenplanning.”
to talk to a manager about “inappropriate behavior” by a colleague. Before she could speak, she said the manager saw downward-pointing data on her computer screen, made a sexual allusion and said, “How can we get up, up, up?”
Musk also frequently posted what employees in the filings call inappropriate content on Twitter, the social media platform he now owns and has renamed according to the California filings.
The workers allege they couldn’tavoid Musk’s posts because he also made company announcements on the channel. His tweets were regularly disseminated in company venues, such as employee chat groups, according to several fired workers’ filings.
“It was very common for people to quote thingsElon had previously said, when it to engineering practices or jokes he had made,” said Tom Moline, one of the fired engineers, in an interview. “Basically anything that would make a freshman frat initiate laugh was fair game in large parts of the company.”
article detailing separate claims that Musk had sexually harassed a SpaceX flight by touching her, exposing himself without her consent and offering her a horse in exchange for a massage.became public in 2022. That year, Business Insider published an
Musk denied the accusation and wrote to a user, “Fine, if you touch my wiener, you can have a horse.”on Twitter. In May 2022, he
Holland-Thielen writes in hercompany the incident. She that an HR director said something to the effect of, “I’ve never been harassed [sic], I must not be hot enough,” and giggled after describing harassment claims as involving “fifty shades of grey,” a reference to steamy romance novels. After the Business Insider article, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell sent an email companywide defending Musk.
“Anyone who knows Elon like I wrote.knows he would never conduct or condone this alleged inappropriate behavior,” Shotwell
In response, the workers penned open letter, calling Musk’s behavior “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment,” which was seen by the Verge and other news outlets. called into meetings with executives, including Shotwell, and fired.
“They told me that my employment was being terminated because theyI was responsible for conceiving, writing, and distributing the open letter,” Moline alleges in his complaint to the California CRD.
A hearing for their NLRB case is scheduled for early March, but SpaceX has asked a judge to put that proceeding on hold while considering the company’s argument that the agency’s structure violates the constitution’s “separation of powers.” In a January filing seeking a court injunction that would halt the proceedings, the company cited its work for the US government as a reason it shouldn’t be subjected to the burden of a labor board trial.
Being subjected to the NLRB hearing, SpaceX argued, “distracts from itsmissions, including launching satellites critical to US defense and intelligence agencies and flying NASA astronauts to space.”