The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, alleges SpaceX routinely discouraged asylees and refugees from applying between September 2018 and May 2022.
It alleges the company refused to hire or consider them due to their citizenship status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
SpaceX wrongly claimed in job postings and public statements over several years that, under federal regulations known as “export control laws”, the company could hire only US citizens and lawful “green card” holding permanent residents, while the US export control laws impose no such hiring restrictions, according to the lawsuit.
It noted that asylees’ and refugees’ permission to live and work in the US stand on equal footing with US citizens and lawful permanent residents under the export control laws.
These laws allow companies like SpaceX to hire asylees and refugees for the same positions as US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
“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,” assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said.
This issue at SpaceX has been under the DoJ’s focus for some time since 2020, when the department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) started an investigation into whether SpaceX was discriminating against potential hires.
But the DoJ said SpaceX “failed to provide documents responsive to the IER’s investigation requests”.
An investigation then found that SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials took actions that “actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company,” the DoJ said in a statement.
The department even cited two videos of Mr Musk speaking about hiring restrictions.
And the SpaceX chief even wrote a post on X, formerly Twitter, that “US law requires at least a green card to be hired at SpaceX, as rockets are considered advanced weapons technology”.
Jobs at issue in the lawsuit are not only limited to those that require advanced degrees.
The private space launch company hires for a number of positions such as cooks, welders, crane operators and dishwashers, as well as IT specialists, software engineers, rocket engineers and business analysts.
The new lawsuit aims to hold SpaceX accountable for these employment practices, seeking relief for asylees and refugees to fairly to compete for job opportunities and contribute to SpaceX’s workforce.
“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,” Ms Clarke said.