– ITU-Reporter

HIRING DISCRIMINATION case may be very costly for SpaceX, said a former U.S. assistant special prosecutor, who also practiced immigration law.

Published Sept. 4, 2023 – Vol. 14 No. 31, World Radiocommunication Week


Dishwashers, Baristas


DoJ Rejected the Basis for SpaceX Hiring Practices That Extended to Foreign Applicants


The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit against SpaceX Aug. 23 alleging illegal, discriminatory hiring practices against refugees and asylum-seekers in the U.S., and which described hiring practices that systemically dissuaded and rejected non-U.S. job applicants.  The DoJ allegations suggested the company rejected out-of-hand foreign applicants for the panoply of employment opportunities stemming from the billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts.   

The DoJ complaint said: “Despite SpaceX’s claims, [the International Traffic in Arms Regulations] and [the Export Administration Regulations] do not contain employment or hiring restrictions.  They do not require employers to limit jobs based on citizenship or immigration status.  And they do not prohibit employers from hiring asylees and refugees.” “Asylees” and refugees are migrants to the U.S. who have fled their home countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution, the DoJ said.  The DoJ complaint made no mention of research.  

The complaint extends beyond high-level engineers, DoJ suggested, to include information technology specialists, software engineers, business analysts, rocket engineers, welders, cooks, crane operators, dishwashers, marketing professionals and baristas.

The DoJ alleges, and cites, the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, and SpaceX, who decided not to hire anybody considered a refugee or asylum-seeker, said attorney Jill Wine-Banks describing the allegations and referring also to timely reporting in The New York Times.  That reporting described global alarms about Elon Musk’s power and influence.  

Wine-Banks spoke on the 26 Aug. edition of the #SistersInLaw podcast (Never Surrender, 26 Aug at 43:00, retrieved 27 Aug.), where she is a regular presenter.  Wine-Banks was the first woman to serve as an organized crime prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, then became one of three assistant special prosecutors in the obstruction of justice trial against former President Nixon’s attorney general, chief of staff, and chief domestic adviser.

The DoJ case against SpaceX is fascinating; a simple discrimination case, said Wine-Banks, who has also practiced immigration law.  SpaceX claimed its technology fell under U. S. export controls, thus could hire only U.S. citizens, she said.

The DoJ said the lawsuit was enforcement action “to stop SpaceX’s discriminatory practices,” and to seek monetary or other relief for the victims.  “SpaceX’s discriminatory hiring practices were routine, widespread, and longstanding, and harmed asylees and refugees,” it said. 

The DoJ alleges SpaceX used the assertion to illegally discriminate against a class of people who are protected under U.S. law, Wine-Banks said.  U.S. law calls for hiring practices to treat refugees and asylum-seekers as U.S. citizens, she said.

According to DoJ allegations, the conduct by SpaceX, its chief and other executives affected every stage of hiring, namely recruitment, application and interviewing, Wine-Banks said.  DoJ alleges that some people with sought-after qualifications were rejected based on the discriminatory criteria, she said.  

During a period of more than 10 years, SpaceX told job applicants, prospective applicants and the public that it could only hire U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, the DoJ asserted.  For at least six years, a SpaceX manager of technical recruiting, and recruiters said only U.S. citizens could be hired, with “few exceptions,” it said. 

The DoJ complaint extended to public comments by the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk.  

DoJ will first tell SpaceX to cease and desist the practices, Wine-Banks said.  DoJ will ask that SpaceX hire the specific persons who were rejected despite qualifications, she said.  It will ask SpaceX to provide back pay from the date of application, she said.  Likely nothing can be done for the people who declined to apply for a job owing to the stated policy, she said.  

The case may involve many people and be very costly for SpaceX, Wine-Banks said.  The complaint extends well beyond high-level engineers, Wine-Banks said.  It extends to welders, laborers, cooks, and beyond, she said.  

One applicant, who a hiring manager said had “some impressive experience listed” was told he could not be hired because he was not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, the DoJ said.  Another asylee applicant, with more than nine years of relevant engineering experience, and who had graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology, was also rejected, it said.  For at least 45 months, SpaceX officials repeatedly used “rejection codes that appeared to be neutral” — such as “’does not meet basic qualifications’” or “’does not meet preferred qualifications,’” but the rejection “was because of their citizenship or immigration status,” it said.  

The civil rights litigation could take many years to resolve, two attorney presenters on the podcast said.