Fired SpaceX workers sue Elon Musk over workplace abuses

The suit charges Elon Musk and SpaceX with sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

Updated - June 13, 2024 11:57 am IST

Published - June 13, 2024 11:10 am IST - San Francisco

Eight former employees sued SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk, alleging that Musk ordered them fired after they challenged what they called rampant sexual harassment and a hostile “Animal House”-style work environment at the company. File photo

Eight former employees sued SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk, alleging that Musk ordered them fired after they challenged what they called rampant sexual harassment and a hostile “Animal House”-style work environment at the company. File photo | Photo Credit: AP

Workers fired by SpaceX filed a lawsuit Wednesday, June 12, 2024, accusing Elon Musk of fostering a sexist "Dark Ages" culture at the company he founded.

The civil complaint filed in a California court in Los Angeles contends Mr.Musk had the workers terminated after they published an open letter detailing their concerns and calling on the American aerospace firm's board to distance itself from the SpaceX chief executive.

"Elon Musk trumpets SpaceX as the leader to a brave new world of space travel," the court filing says.

Also read: Empowering women against sexual abuse at workplaces

"But (he) runs his company in the Dark Ages -- treating women as sexual objects to be evaluated on their bra size, bombarding the workplace with lewd sexual banter, and offering the reprise to those who challenge the 'Animal House' environment that if they don't like it they can seek employment elsewhere."

The suit charges Mr. Musk and SpaceX with sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

"Musk thinks he's above the law," plaintiffs' attorney Laurie Burgess said in a statement. "We look forward to holding Musk accountable for his actions at trial."

The fired workers have already filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, but that has been stalled by a lawsuit by Mr. Musk trying to derail it.

"Filing this suit marks an important milestone in our quest for justice, for holding leadership accountable, and for implementing responsible changes in workplace policies for our colleagues at SpaceX who continue to toil in a hostile work environment," plaintiff Paige Holland-Thielen said in the statement.

"We hope that this lawsuit encourages our colleagues to stay strong and to keep fighting for a better workplace."

SpaceX in 2022 fired each of the eight former workers represented by the suit, the filing said.

According to the lawsuit and complaints to regulators, SpaceX nurtured a hostile work environment where jokes about sexual harassment were commonplace, women were paid less than men and workers who complained were dismissed.

‘Unwelcome hostile work environment’

"Musk knowingly and purposefully created an unwelcome hostile work environment based upon his conduct of interjecting into the workplace vile sexual photographs, memes, and commentary that demeaned women and/or the LGBTQ+ community," plaintiffs' attorneys said in the statement.

In their complaints, the engineers describe a sexist corporate culture, where sexual comments and other forms of harassment were tolerated or made light of.

They also contended that Mr. Musk's often inappropriate online humor was being emulated internally, setting the tone at the workplace.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tesla, Mr. Musk's other flagship company, has been the subject of similar accusations of racism and sexual harassment at its California site.

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