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Feds Claim SpaceX Illegally Fired Employees Over Criticism of Elon Musk

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Elon Musk’s private space venture is facing yet another unlawful labor practice accusation, this time for allegedly firing employees who were critical of the controversial SpaceX CEO.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against SpaceX by former employees, claiming that they were fired for their role in distributing an open letter that urged the company to distance itself from the public behavior of its founder.

The complaint, issued on Wednesday, alleges that SpaceX discharged eight employees for their involvement with the open letter and called on others to quit if they disagreed with Musk’s behavior. The NLRB is an independent federal agency set up to enforce labor laws in the United States, particularly those concerning collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.

In the letter, the group of SpaceX employees describe Musk’s behavior in the public sphere as a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.” The open letter was drafted and delivered to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell’s desk in June 2022, nearly a month after a report by Business Insider claimed Musk had exposed his erect penis to a former flight attendant at SpaceX and offered to buy her a horse in exchange for sex. In response, Musk wrote on X (which was still Twitter at the time) that the scandal should be referred to as “Elongate,” cleverly combining his name and a word to describe an erect penis. “It’s kinda perfect,” he added to finish off another one of his greatest hits on the social media platform.

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the letter read, calling on the company to “swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.”

“It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values,” the group of employees wrote in the letter. The letter further advocated the company adhere to its “no-asshole” and “zero tolerance” policy by making sure there are ways for employees to report bad behavior and punish those responsible for a bad working environment, “whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day.”

The NLRB complaint claims that the employees were fired immediately after the letter was distributed, and that SpaceX interrogated, surveilled and threatened workers as a result of it. The complaint claims that the employees were fired for activities that are protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for March 5 before an administrative law judge of the NLRB.

This isn’t the first time SpaceX has come under fire for its treatment of employees. In August 2023, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit claiming that SpaceX routinely discouraged refugees and asylees from applying for open positions at the company. SpaceX later won a court order to block the lawsuit. In October 2023, a former SpaceX employee filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that women and minorities are paid less than their white male counterparts.

Want to know more about Elon Musk’s space venture? Check out our full coverage of SpaceX’s Starship megarocket and the SpaceX Starlink internet satellite megaconstellation. And for more spaceflight in your life, follow us on X and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.

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