The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against SpaceX, a prominent space company led by Elon Musk, accusing it of discriminatory practices against refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring procedures. The legal action comes after an investigation that commenced in June 2020, prompted by a complaint regarding employment discrimination from a non-U.S. citizen.
Between 2018 and 2022, SpaceX allegedly misrepresented that export control laws restricted its hiring to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The lawsuit asserts that the company failed to adequately consider or employ refugees and asylees due to their citizenship status. This action is claimed to have violated federal law.
Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, explained that their inquiry uncovered evidence that SpaceX recruiters and senior officials actively discouraged asylees and refugees from pursuing job opportunities within the company. The DOJ’s findings indicate that over a span of almost four years and more than 10,000 hires, only a single asylee was employed at SpaceX, following notification of the investigation by the DOJ.
The lawsuit, filed within the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a division of the DOJ responsible for immigration cases, seeks redress for affected parties. It aims to secure fair consideration, back pay, and policy changes for asylees and refugees who allegedly faced discrimination in the hiring process. Additionally, the DOJ is pursuing civil penalties against the company.
In a separate incident in 2021, the DOJ’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section accused SpaceX of obstructing a subpoena related to the investigation. The DOJ requested that a judge compel SpaceX to provide documents concerning its hiring practices. SpaceX had attempted to dismiss the subpoena through a petition to a DOJ administrative tribunal, but this attempt was unsuccessful.
The case’s origins trace back to an interview in March 2020, where a man named Fabian Hutter claimed that SpaceX had discriminated against him by inquiring about his citizenship status during a job interview for a technical strategy associate position. Hutter, though not a U.S. citizen, holds dual citizenship from Austria and Canada as a lawful permanent resident in the United States.
SpaceX has not yet responded to CNBC’s request for comment on the lawsuit. As the legal proceedings unfold, the case brings to light concerns about fair employment practices and highlights the Department of Justice’s commitment to combating discrimination based on citizenship status.