SpaceX is under investigation by a California civil rights agency over allegations that the company and CEO Elon Musk failed to address discrimination and sexual harassment against female employees, including retaliation against those who criticized the company and Musk.
The California Civil Rights Department informed SpaceX about the claims in January, several months after a group of engineers filed complaints with the agency that alleged they were fired for criticizing SpaceX and Musk in a letter sent to company executives, their lawyer Laurie Burgess said Tuesday.
The group of workers is also the focus of a case brought against SpaceX by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that accuses the company of violating federal law by firing them.
SpaceX has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the agency to block its case by claiming that NLRB board members and the agency’s in-house judges weren’t properly appointed under the Constitution.
Reuters obtained six of the complaints in which engineers claimed that SpaceX routinely passes women over for jobs and promotions in favor of men, pays female workers less than men for comparable work, tolerates sexual comments and other harassment, and retaliated against engineers and other workers for complaining.
“SpaceX tolerates, condones and permits a work environment that is hostile to female employees and to employees of all genders who object to discrimination and harassment,” the workers said in the complaints.
The engineers involved in the dispute called Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, a “distraction and embarrassment” in their 2022 letter and criticized his response to sexual harassment allegations by a flight attendant. They also highlighted a series of social media posts made by Musk since 2020 that they said were sexually suggestive.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The California Civil Rights Department is barred by state law from commenting on pending investigations.
Bloomberg News reported that SpaceX has until later this month to respond to the California agency about the complaints. The agency will then decide whether to dismiss the allegations or attempt to broker a settlement between the two sides. If no deal is reached, the agency could allow the workers to sue SpaceX or the agency could file a lawsuit itself.
SpaceX previously faced an investigation from the federal Department of Justice that accused it of discriminating against asylum recipients and refugees in its hiring decisions. A federal judge later blocked the lawsuit because administrative law judges overstepped their authority by exercising authorities reserved for officials appointed by the president.
Reuters contributed to this report.