Elon Musk Sued for Harassment by Former SpaceX Employees

By Josh Eidelson | June 13, 2024

Fired SpaceX engineers have filed a lawsuit against Elon Musk for sexual harassment and retaliation in California state court, escalating their multifront legal battle with the billionaire chief executive and his aerospace company.

“Musk knowingly and purposefully created an unwelcome hostile work environment based upon his conduct of interjecting into the workplace vile sexual photographs, memes, and commentary that demeaned women and/or the LGBTQ+ community,” the eight former employees, who have also been pursuing a US labor board case against the company, said in their Wednesday filing. The plaintiffs are alleging that some of them then experienced harassing comments from other coworkers that “mimicked Musk’s posts” from Twitter and “created a wildly uncomfortable hostile work environment.”

Related: All the Major Legal Battles Elon Musk and His Companies Are Facing

After Musk publicly mocked misconduct allegations against him, the workers collaborated on an open letter in 2022 raising concerns about his behavior and the company’s culture, and allege they were fired in retaliation. Their filing says they have reason to believe Musk personally made the decision to terminate them in retaliation for that activism. When a human resources official suggested conducting an investigation first, Musk replied “I don’t care – fire them,” the complaint alleges.

Gwynne Shotwell, pr Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

SpaceX and Elon Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. SpaceX has previously denied wrongdoing and said that the fired employees violated policies. It also said Musk was not involved in their terminations.

This suit against Musk follows earlier complaints from the same employees to the US National Labor Relations Board that said SpaceX illegally retaliated against them. NLRB prosecutors agreed, but SpaceX sued in January claiming the agency’s structure was unconstitutional. An appeals court injunction has put the labor board case on hold.

Separately, on Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported allegations that Musk made sexual advances to women at SpaceX, including a former intern he had sex with. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was quoted in the story accusing the Journal of presenting “untruths, mischaracterizations, and revisionist history,” and saying “Elon is one of the best humans I know.”

Related: SpaceX Forced Workers to Sign Illegal Severance Agreements, Claims NLRB

The NLRB lacks authority to hold individual people liable, but the new state court lawsuit names Musk personally as a defendant, citing what it calls his “maniacal control over personnel decisions at his businesses” and his public comments, such as joking on Twitter, regarding a misconduct allegation, “if you touch my wiener, you can have a horse.” Musk has denied wrongdoing.

The lawsuit also alleges that SpaceX executives including Musk and Shotwell participated in a video “that mocks and makes light of sexual misconduct and banter,” including a scene in which an employee demonstrated the “correct” way to spank a coworker.

The fired employees previously brought some of their claims to California’s Civil Rights Department, Bloomberg News reported in February. That agency this week issued them “right to sue” letters clearing the way for them to bring their lawsuit, according to the complaint.

“We need to pursue whatever avenues we can to continue advancing our claims,” plaintiff Tom Moline, who worked on SpaceX’s Dragon program, said in an interview. “Even Elon, with all his wealth and power, is not above being held accountable, right?”

Top photo: SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California Photographer: Alisha Jucevic/Bloomberg.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.