SpaceX Sues US Agency That Alleged Illegal Firings

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX comes out swinging against US agency that accused it of illegally firing staff critical of Musk

Elon Musk is no stranger to lawsuits, as evidenced after SpaceX hit back and sued a US labour board that had logged a serious complaint against it earlier this week.

The Guardian reported that SpaceX on Thursday sued the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), after a lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Brownsville, Texas. The SpaceX lawsuit alleges that the structure of the NLRB violates the US constitution.

It comes after the NLRB had earlier this week accused SpaceX of unlawfully firing eight employees for circulating a letter that called founder and CEO Elon Musk a “distraction and embarrassment.”

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Image credit: SpaceX

Open letter

The open letter was actually circulated back in June 2022, from the 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 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.”

“It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values,” the letter stated.

This week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against the Elon Musk space firm, alleging that SpaceX violated federal labour law by firing eight workers in 2022 for signing on to the letter

It also claimed that SpaceX violated the workers’ rights under federal labour law to band together and advocate for better working conditions.

The complaint also accused SpaceX of interrogating employees about the letter, disparaging the workers who were involved, and threatening to fire workers who engaged in similar activity.

The NLRB’s general counsel acts like a prosecutor and brings cases to the five-member board appointed by the president.

If SpaceX does not settle, the case will be heard by an administrative judge, whose decision can be appealed to the board and then to a federal appeals court.

A hearing is slated for 5 March.

SpaceX lawsuit

SpaceX in its lawsuit is, according to the Guardian newspaper, alleging that because federal law only allows board members and administrative judges to be removed for cause, and not at will, the NLRB’s structure is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit seeks to block the NLRB case from moving forward.

An NLRB spokesperson declined to comment, the Guardian reported.

But it noted that 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.

A federal judge in Brownsville paused the administrative case in November, pending the outcome of a lawsuit by SpaceX. The judge said the US constitution required that administrative judges at the justice department be appointed by the president, and not the attorney general, as they currently are.

The Guardian noted that the NLRB is already facing a similar lawsuit from a Starbucks employee who opposed the unionisation of the New York store where she works.

The worker sued the board in October after it denied her petition for an election to dissolve the union. The agency has not responded to that lawsuit.