Eight former SpaceX employees sue Elon Musk and the astronautics giant for ‘treating women as sexual objects’ - Hindustan Times
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Eight former SpaceX employees sue Elon Musk and the astronautics giant for ‘treating women as sexual objects’

Jun 14, 2024 09:03 AM IST

Former eight SpaceX employees file lawsuit against Elon Musk, alleging unlawful termination over gender discrimination and sexual harassment concerns.

On Wednesday, eight former SpaceX employees sued Elon Musk, alleging they were unlawfully terminated for raising concerns about gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, gestures as he attends the Viva Technology conference on innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo(REUTERS)
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, gestures as he attends the Viva Technology conference on innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo(REUTERS)

The lawsuit claims that despite the Tesla boss' ambitions for leading space travel, his company operates with outdated and sexist practices, treating women as sexual objects and fostering a workplace environment filled with lewd sexual banter.

Musk wants to be ‘the leader to a brave new world of space travel’

The eight employee driven lawsuit claims Musk thinks of himself as “the leader to a brave new world of space travel, but runs his company in the dark ages — treating women as sexual objects to be evaluated on their bra size, bombarding the workplace with lewd sexual banter, and offering the reprise to those who challenge the ‘Animal House’ environment that if they don’t like it they can seek employment elsewhere.”

And now they are seeking unspecified monetary damages for “lost wages, earnings, and other employee benefits, emotional distress.”

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In 2022, the plaintiffs were involved in drafting an open letter lambasting Musk and urging SpaceX to foster a more inclusive culture. Signed by at least 400 employees, the letter asked SpaceX management to clarify that Musk’s statements, particularly on then Twitter, did not reflect the company’s values. It also highlighted the inconsistent enforcement of SpaceX’s “No A**hole” policy.

And what happened after that was kinda expected: the eight employees were fired, alleging that “Musk personally ordered the Plaintiff’s terminations.”

While addressing the 2022 letter, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell stated she would enforce SpaceX’s “zero tolerance” standards against employee harassment. However, The New York Times reported that Shotwell said the employees were terminated for making other staff feel “uncomfortable.”

Similar complaints were previously filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing that the terminations constituted retaliation against employees for engaging in “concerted protected activities.”

Earlier this year, SpaceX filed its own lawsuit in response to a consolidated NLRB complaint, claiming the NLRB’s structure is “unconstitutional.”

Fired employees point out ‘pervasively sexist culture’ at SpaceX

The new complaint details statements by Musk and actions by other workers that allegedly contributed to a hostile work environment and “pervasively sexist culture” at SpaceX. It references multiple crude posts by Musk on Twitter, such as a plan to create a Texas university called “TITS” where “Ds [women’s bra size] would get degrees,” and a doctored photo rendering a rocket to appear as a giant penis.

One of the plaintiffs, Paige Holland-Thielen told CNN, “Things like that were widely shared on all internal chat channels and talked about in meetings and used as fodder in professional environments.”

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The complaint also cites Musk's response to a sexual harassment allegation published by Business Insider, where he tweeted: “Finally, we get to use Elongate as scandal name. It’s kinda perfect,” and a laughing emoji.

The lawsuit also argues that Musk’s behaviour encouraged similar conduct among other employees, contributing to a hostile work environment.

The plaintiffs allege that SpaceX engineers often used crude and demeaning names for products, such as “Upskirt Camera” for a camera on the Falcon rocket. The lawsuit also mentions a SpaceX HR director's dismissive comment: “I’ve never been sexually harassed; I must not be hot enough.”

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