Written by 12:41 Business

Elon Musk Sued by Former SpaceX Employees

Eight former employees of Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, sued the company and Mr. Musk on Wednesday, contending they were wrongfully fired for raising concerns about sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The employees were fired in 2022 after they circulated an open letter urging SpaceX executives to condemn Mr. Musk’s comments on Twitter, later renamed X, which amounted to “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.” After being made aware of the letter, Mr. Musk ordered the terminations, according to the complaint.

“Our eight brave clients stood up to him and were fired for doing so,” Laurie Burgess, a lawyer representing the former SpaceX employees, said in a statement. “We look forward to holding Musk accountable for his actions at trial.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory damages. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in California state court in Los Angeles, called SpaceX’s workplace an “Animal House” filled with inappropriate and sexually suggestive behavior. Several plaintiffs said they had experienced harassment from other SpaceX employees that “mimicked Musk’s posts,” which created “a wildly uncomfortable hostile work environment.”

The lawsuit contends that executives at SpaceX were regularly made aware of grievances about Mr. Musk’s explicit social media messages, but that the complaints were routinely dismissed, even after a “sexual harassment internal audit” conducted by Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer.

After the employees were fired, Ms. Shotwell wrote in an email to SpaceX employees that there was “too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism,” according to a copy of the email obtained by The New York Times.

The same eight employees are already pursuing charges against SpaceX with the National Labor Relations Board. In January, SpaceX sued the labor board to dispute the charges, arguing that the complaint should be dismissed because the structure of the agency is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed a day before Tesla shareholders are expected to conclude a vote on a pay package for Mr. Musk that’s worth about $45 billion. It also followed a Tuesday report in The Wall Street Journal detailing Mr. Musk’s history of sexual relationships with co-workers.

The lawsuit is the latest in a list of grievances between employees and Mr. Musk. In 2022, Business Insider reported that SpaceX had paid $250,000 to settle a claim that he exposed himself to an employee on a private plane. (Mr. Musk later denied the “wild accusations.”) In 2022, he laid off roughly half of Twitter’s work force after acquiring the company, later firing another two dozen of the company’s internal critics. And last August, the Justice Department sued SpaceX for discriminating against refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring.

“We hope that this lawsuit encourages our colleagues to stay strong and to keep fighting for a better workplace,” Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

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Last modified: 16 June 2024
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