Justice Department files hiring discrimination suit against SpaceX

A SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy rocket prepares to launch a satellite from Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on July 26. The Justice Department is suing SpaceX over its hiring practices involving non-U.S. citizens. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Elon Musk's SpaceX, accusing it of discriminating against asylees and refugees in hiring.

The lawsuit charges that from September 2018 through May 2022, Space Exploration Technologies, SpaceX's formal name, regularly discouraged asylees and refugees from applying for jobs with them. The department said that SpaceX went further by refusing to hire or consider them because of their citizenship status, in violation of federal immigration laws.

"Our investigation found that SpaceX failed to fairly consider or hire asylees and refugees because of their citizenship status and imposed what amounted to a ban on their hire regardless of their qualification, in violation of federal law," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a statement.

"Our investigation also found that SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company. 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."

The Justice Department said that in job postings and public statements over several years, SpaceX wrongly claimed that under federal regulations known as "export control laws," SpaceX could hire only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

"The United States seeks fair consideration and backpay for asylees and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination," the Justice Department said.

"The United States also seeks civil penalties in an amount to be determined by the court and policy changes to ensure it complies with the [Immigration and Nationalization Act's] nondiscrimination mandate going forward."

The Justice Department started looking into SpaceX in 2021 over whether the company discriminates against non-U.S. citizens in its hiring practices. It accused Musk of stonewalling a subpoena for information then.

The DOJ's Immigrant and Employee Rights Section had received a complaint of employment discrimination from a non-U.S. citizen claiming that the company discriminated against him based on his citizenship status.