Legal battle | SpaceX fights back after being accused of firing staff who criticised Elon Musk

SpaceX fights back after being accused of firing staff who criticised Elon Musk

SpaceX has launched legal action in response to claims that it sacked employees who criticised their boss, Elon Musk.

The National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) had, earlier this week, accused the rocket and satellite maker of illegally firing employees who sent a letter to company executives calling CEO Elon Musk "a distraction and embarrassment."

As reported by Reuters, the NLRB alleges SpaceX violated federal labour law by firing eight workers in 2022 for signing onto the letter, which accused Musk of making sexist comments that went against company policies. That case will be heard by an administrative judge and then a five-member board appointed by the U.S. president. The board's decisions can be appealed in federal court.

But SpaceX in its lawsuit claims 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.

NLRB’s case against SpaceX

The letter sent to SpaceX executives in June 2022 focused on a series of tweets Musk had made since 2020, many of which were sexually suggestive. The employees claimed Musk's statements did not align with the company's policies on diversity and workplace misconduct, and called on SpaceX to condemn them.

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

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

SpaceX has a "toxic culture" where harassment is tolerated, particularly against women, Deborah Lawrence, one of the employees who was fired, said in a statement provided by her lawyers.

"We wrote the open letter to leadership not out of malice, but because we cared about the mission and the people around us," Lawrence said.

What happens next

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 scheduled for March 5.

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When the NLRB finds that firings violated labour law, it can order that workers be reinstated and given back pay. If SpaceX is found to have violated the law, it could also face steeper penalties in future cases before the board.

The case is the latest to accuse companies run by Musk of violating employees' rights under labour and employment laws.

It was reported in November documented at least 600 previously unreported workplace injuries at SpaceX facilities, including crushed limbs, electrocution, head injuries and one death. SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment on the findings.

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