LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Justice sued SpaceX Thursday, alleging Elon Musk’s Hawthorne-based space company discriminated against refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring practices.
The lawsuit alleges that between 2018 and 2022, Hawthorne-based SpaceX “wrongly claimed” that export control laws limited its hiring to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
The DOJ said it has been investigating SpaceX since June 2020, when the department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section received a complaint of employment discrimination from a non-U.S. citizen.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“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,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
Clarke added that SpaceX “recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company.”
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According to data SpaceX provided to the government, from September 2018 to May 2022, out of more than 10,000 hires, the company hired only one individual who was an asylee and identified as such in his application, the lawsuit states.
SpaceX recruits and hires for a variety of positions, including welders, cooks, crane operators, baristas and dishwashers, as well as information technology specialists, software engineers, business analysts, rocket engineers and marketing professionals. The jobs at issue in the lawsuit are not limited to those that require advanced degrees, prosecutors said.
The suit was filed in the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, the only court that can hear claims under the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision, the law the complaint alleges SpaceX violated.
The government is seeking back pay for asylees and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties in an amount to be determined by the court and policy changes to ensure it complies with the Immigration and Nationality Act’s mandate against discrimination.