SpaceX, Elon Musk Sued By Engineers For Unfair Firings, Sex Bias

More legal trouble for Elon Musk after engineers file a lawsuit against him and SpaceX, alleging a toxic workplace culture.

Reuters reported that both Musk and SpaceX were sued on Wednesday by eight engineers who allege they were illegally fired for raising concerns about sexual harassment and discrimination against women.

This is a second lawsuit against Elon Musk in this week alone, as he awaits the outcome of a shareholder vote at Tesla to reinstate his $56 billion pay deal that was struck down in January this year by a US judge.

Image credit: SpaceX

Musk a “distraction and embarrassment”

According to Reuters, the new lawsuit has been filed by eight engineers – four women and four men – who claim Musk ordered their firing in 2022 after they had circulated an open letter calling the billionaire a “distraction and embarrassment”.

The open letter was circulated back in June 2022, from a number of staff to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

The letter described how Musk’s actions and behaviour in 2022 (including his controversial Twitter takeover, SEC bashing etc) and the allegations of sexual harassment against him (which he denied) were negatively affecting SpaceX’s reputation.

“Elon’s behaviour in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the 2022 letter had stated.

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”

Fired staff

But shortly after that letter criticised the behaviour of Musk, senior management at SpaceX fired a number of staff members in June 2022.

In January 2024 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against SpaceX, alleging that the firm had violated federal labour law by firing eight workers in 2022 for signing the letter

Also immediately SpaceX responded and sued the NLRB in a federal court in Brownsville, Texas. The SpaceX lawsuit alleged that the structure of the NLRB violated the US constitution.

A US appeals court last month reportedly paused the NLRB case while it considers SpaceX’s bid to block it from moving forward – pending the outcome of the company’s lawsuit.

SpaceX recently utilised a similar tactic to block an administrative case by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which had claimed the company illegally refused to hire refugees and asylum recipients.

Engineers lawsuit

Now according to Reuters, the lawsuit plaintiffs have cited a series of tweets by Musk, several of which reference his penis, including one from 2022 telling the former CEO of YouTube “if you touch my wiener, you can have a horse.”

The lawsuit alleges Musk’s conduct fostered a “pervasively sexist culture” at SpaceX, where female engineers were routinely subjected to harassment and sexist comments and their concerns about workplace culture were ignored.

Reuters cited the lawsuit as alleging that senior engineers used euphemisms for sexual acts and male genitals to describe rocket components.

“These actions … had the foreseeable and actual result of offending, causing distress, and intruding upon Plaintiffs’ well-being so as to disrupt their emotional tranquility in the workplace,” the plaintiffs reportedly said in the lawsuit.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SpaceX has denied wrongdoing, saying the 2022 letter was disruptive and the workers were properly fired for violating company policies. The company has also denied that Musk was involved in the decision to fire the engineers.

Punitive damages

Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the plaintiffs, is quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement provided by her lawyers that Wednesday’s lawsuit is an attempt to hold SpaceX leadership accountable and spur changes in workplace policies.

“We hope that this lawsuit encourages our colleagues to stay strong and to keep fighting for a better workplace,” she reportedly said.

Wednesday’s lawsuit accuses SpaceX and Musk of retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of California law, and further accuses the firm of sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a court order banning SpaceX from continuing to engage in its allegedly unlawful conduct.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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