Elon Musk’s tweet is cited in a new DOJ lawsuit accusing SpaceX of routine discrimination against refugees

  • The Justice Department’s civil rights division is suing SpaceX, Elon Musk‘s rocket company.
  • It alleges the company illegally refused to hire asylees and refugees.
  • The lawsuit prominently features a tweet from Musk about SpaceX’s hiring practices.

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The Justice Department cited a tweet from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a lawsuit against the company alleging it discriminated against asylees and refugees for years.

The lawsuit alleges that the rocket company discriminated during recruiting, screening, and hiring and violated the Immigration and Nationality Act from September 2018 to May 2022.

“SpaceX’s discriminatory hiring practices were routine, widespread, and longstanding, and harmed asylees and refugees,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

It adds that SpaceX discouraged asylees and refugees from even applying to positions at the company by falsely stating in job postings that the company could only hire US citizens. 

“Because of their citizenship status, asylees and refugees had virtually no chance of being fairly considered for or hired for a job at SpaceX,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit cites a 2020 tweet from Musk where the billionaire wrote “US  law requires at least a green card” to be hired at SpaceX since rockets are “advanced weapons and technology.”

Musk had made similar claims on other occasions over the years, the lawsuit noted. At a 2016 conference, he claimed a normal work visa would be insufficient to work at SpaceX unless the company obtains “special permission from the Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State.”

Those claims are incorrect, the lawsuit says.

“Export control laws and regulations do not prohibit or restrict employers from hiring asylees and refugees; those laws treat asylees and refugees just like U.S. citizens,” the lawsuit says.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division, which brought the lawsuit, informed SpaceX in 2020 that it had initiated its investigation. But the company kept up its discriminatory practices for another two years, the lawsuit alleges.

SpaceX initially refused to hand over employment records and fought a Justice Department subpoena in court. Two federal judges ruled against the company, forcing it to provide the records.

The records 0btained by the Justice Department show that SpaceX “repeatedly rejected applicants who identified as asylees or refugees” in their job applications between September 2018 and May 2022, according to the lawsuit. Those applicants were listed as “not authorized to work/ITAR ineligible,” referring to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations law, in SpaceX’s internal hiring system, the lawsuit says.

“Put differently, SpaceX’s own hiring records show that SpaceX repeatedly rejected applicants who identified as asylees or refugees because it believed that they were ineligible to be hired due to ITAR,” the lawsuit says.

In a statement, Kristen Clarke, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said the lawsuit “will hold SpaceX accountable for its illegal employment practices.”

“SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company,” Clarke said. “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.”

A representative for SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Musk is no stranger to litigation. Previous employees from Twitter, SpaceX, and Tesla have filed lawsuits against him for labor law violations, sexism, and racism.

In November of 2022, Musk was accused of firing SpaceX employees in retaliation for their criticism of his behavior, an action which they said violates labor laws

In the same month, a former SpaceX employee filed a suit against the entrepreneur, saying his progress was stymied at the company because of age discrimination.

This story has been updated.

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Rebecca CohenJacob Shamsian