DOJ Sues SpaceX Over Alleged Hiring Discrimination In The US

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing SpaceX over allegations of hiring discrimination against refugees and asylees. "SpaceX routinely discouraged asylees and refugees from applying and refused to hire or consider them," the DOJ alleged in a news release. According to the lawsuit, the Elon Musk-led space company exclusively hired U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents between 2018 and 2020. 

Moreover, the company actively discouraged asylees and refugees from landing a job at SpaceX, the lawsuit claims. These alleged discriminatory practices reportedly included refusing applications from the target group, rejecting qualified candidates based on their citizenship status, and using language in job announcements that discouraged asylees and refugees from applying in the first place. 

Space technology is a sensitive topic, not just from a national security lens, but also from a competitive perspective as more private players enter the sector. SpaceX's position is unique, as it not only takes commercial contracts but also works with NASA and has even offered the use of its Starlink satellite internet service to Ukraine's military. The FBI, alongside the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, issued a memo outlining the importance of the private space industry to the U.S. economy and national security. However, U.S. law doesn't allow a company like SpaceX to discourage asylees and refugees from applying and being hired.

Musk's stance on SpaceX hiring

On multiple occasions, Musk has stated that SpaceX employment requires a U.S. green card at a minimum since the company deals with advanced weapons technology. At an event in 2016, Musk claimed that it is not up to the company to allow international hiring because SpaceX is legally prevented from it. 

"It is not out of some desire of SpaceX to just hire people with green cards. It's because we are not allowed to do anything else," Musk said, further adding that it was not a wise policy for the country. Musk went on to state that a normal work visa isn't sufficient unless the applicant gets a special nod from the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State.

However, the Justice Department says there are no such hiring restrictions in place as per export control laws. Not only do refugees and asylees stand on equal footing with U.S. citizens and green card holders, but they also don't need any further government approval to access "export-controlled information and materials," the DOJ says. The lawsuit seeks policy change at the company, civil penalties, and back pay to victims of SpaceX's hiring restrictions.