Elon Musk hits back at DOJ over lawsuit alleging hiring discrimination by SpaceX

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is hitting back at the Justice Department over a lawsuit alleging that the company engaged in employment discrimination against asylum recipients and refugees.

The Dept. of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday announced a lawsuit against SpaceX alleging that the company "routinely discouraged asylees and refugees from applying and refused to hire or consider them, because of their citizenship status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)." According to the suit, SpaceX wrongly claimed that federal laws and regulations restricted the company to only hiring U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders.

Musk took to X, the social media platform he acquired that was formerly known as Twitter, and posted in response to a picture of a job posting at the federal Bureau of Prisons showing that U.S. citizenship is required as a condition of employment that the "DOJ needs to sue themselves!"

"SpaceX was told repeatedly that hiring anyone who was not a permanent resident of the United States would violate international arms trafficking law, which would be a criminal offense," Musk said in another post on the platform. "We couldn’t even hire Canadian citizens, despite Canada being part of NORAD! This is yet another case of weaponization of the DOJ for political purposes."

DOJ’s lawsuit noted that asylees and refugees are legally permitted by the federal government to live and work in the U.S. without expiration, and added that there is no restriction on asylees or refugees working for companies that have to comply with export control requirements.

Within the filing, DOJ noted Musk’s past public posts on the subject including one from 2020 on the platform then known as Twitter in which he wrote, "US law requires at least a green card to be hired at SpaceX, as rockets are considered advanced weapons technology." It included another post citing the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as a reason why the company was confined to hiring U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The suit also lists numerous other instances in which SpaceX employees and hiring managers posted public announcements stating that the company could only hire U.S. citizens and green card holders. 

Data provided by SpaceX to the DOJ indicated that from September 2018 to May 2022, the company only hired one individual who identified themselves as an asylee during the application process out of more than 10,000 hires and did not hire any individuals who identified as refugees in their applications during that period.

"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 of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. "Our investigation 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," Clarke added. "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 Justice Department is seeking "fair consideration and back pay for asylees and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination." It is also pursuing civil penalties that may be determined by the court and policy changes to ensure SpaceX complies with the Immigration and Nationality Act's non-discrimination requirement in the future.

The DOJ Civil Rights Division's Immigrant and Employee Rights Section is requesting that asylees or refugees contact the division if they either applied to a job at SpaceX and were rejected; were discouraged from applying to SpaceX because they weren't a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; or were told by a recruiter or other SpaceX employee that the company could only hire U.S. citizens and permanent residents.