Immigration Law

DOJ sues Elon Musk’s SpaceX for discriminatory hiring practices

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Elon Musk

SpaceX owner Elon Musk calls the discrimination suit “weaponization of the DOJ for political purposes.” (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via AP, File)

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk that is more commonly known as SpaceX, for discrimination against asylees and refugees in hiring.

In its complaint, the Department of Justice alleges SpaceX consistently discouraged asylees and refugees from applying for open positions and refused to consider them or hire them for those positions because of their citizenship status. The department said this occurred from at least September 2018 to May 2022, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

In 1986, Congress amended the federal statute to prohibit employment discrimination because of citizenship status or national origin in hiring practices.

“Asylees and refugees have overcome many obstacles in their lives, and unlawful employment discrimination based on their citizenship status should not be one of them,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “Through this lawsuit we will hold SpaceX accountable for its illegal employment practices and seek relief that allows asylees and refugees to fairly compete for job opportunities and contribute their talents to SpaceX’s workforce.”

The Associated Press, CNN and Reuters have coverage of the lawsuit.

The Department of Justice specifically alleges SpaceX officials and recruiters discouraged asylees and refugees from applying to open positions by falsely stating in online postings and announcements that the company could only hire U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents because of export control laws.

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations applies to SpaceX and other companies that manufacture spacecraft and limits foreign nationals from access to important information that could impact national security. But the Department of Justice contends these laws do not prevent the hiring of asylees and refugees, whose “permission to live and work in the United States does not expire, and they stand on equal footing with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.”

The Department of Justice is seeking fair consideration and back pay for asylees and refugees who were denied employment at SpaceX because of alleged discrimination. It is also seeking civil penalties and policy changes to ensure SpaceX complies with the Immigration and Nationality Act in the future.

Reuters reports that Musk characterized the lawsuit against his company as a “weaponization of the DOJ for political purposes.”

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