Elon Musk Sued Over Alleged Sexual Harassment Horror Show at SpaceX

Johannes Christo/Reuters
Johannes Christo/Reuters

Shocking details of Elon Musk’s alleged conduct are laid bare in a new lawsuit filed by eight former employees of SpaceX, who claim the “Animal House” environment fostered by the eccentric CEO and his executive team created a toxic work environment unbecoming of the company whose futuristic mission includes the colonization of other planets.

The allegations include near-constant sexual comments and actions from Musk himself—both publicly and privately—which were immediately repeated and mimicked by other employees at the company. This fraternity-house culture became pervasive at SpaceX, the ex-employees allege, with a number of engineers creating crudely-named products including an “upskirt camera” on the Falcon rocket, the “fun tunnel” (a euphemism for anal sex) and “B-plugs” on the Dragon vehicle, as well as teams of employees calling themselves the “chodes” and “schlongs.”

“It’s reminiscent of the kind of charges that came out in Wall Street in the 1990s,” Anne Shaver, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, told The Daily Beast. “It’s really shocking to see this happening in, you know, 2020s, in California.”

Claire Mallon, Tom Moline, André Nadeau, Deborah Lawrence, Rebekah Clark, Scott Beck, Yaman Abdulhak and Paige Holland-Thielen all worked for SpaceX some time between June 2014 to August 2022, according to the lawsuit which was filed out of Los Angeles on Wednesday. They all claim to have been fired after raising concerns about the work environment at the company.

Elon Musk Had Sexual Relationship With a Former SpaceX Intern: Report

The eight are being represented by Anne Shaver and Laurie Burgess of Lieff Cabraser Hiemann and Bernstein and are seeking monetary damages to account for “lost wages, earnings, and other employee benefits, emotional distress.” The exact amount is unclear.

The lawsuit also lambasts Musk’s self-favored image as a forward-thinking visionary—someone who wants to be “the leader to a brave new world of space travel, but runs his company in the dark ages — treating women as sexual objects to be evaluated on their bra size, bombarding the workplace with lewd sexual banter, and offering the reprise to those who challenge the ‘Animal House’ environment that if they don’t like it they can seek employment elsewhere.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

According to The Guardian, it has denied the allegations and dismissed the claims, claiming the employees were fired legally. SpaceX does not often respond to media inquiries.

The lawsuit labeled Musk’s alleged constant sexual jokes, open bigotry toward the LGBTQ+ community and sexual advances on employees “juvenile” and “grotesque”—often serving to doubly affect workers by encouraging others to emulate his conduct.

When former SpaceX employee Ashley Kosak first raised the issue of sexual harassment at the company in December 2021, she alleged that SpaceX conducted an internal audit which “failed to identify any problems.” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell even publicly discredited Kosak’s complaints in company meetings, the lawsuit alleges.

Following the May 2022 exposé which alleged that Musk offered a flight attendant a horse in exchange for sexual favors, the lawsuit alleges that Shotwell sent out a “company-wide email supporting Musk” while Musk joked about the allegations on Twitter.

Holland-Thielen further alleged in the lawsuit that she was denied promotions while her male colleagues advanced, and saw her ideas routinely shut down by her male colleagues.

Paige Holland-Thielen

Paige Holland-Thielen

Anne Shaver

Holland-Thielen alleged that during the SpaceX women’s forum in December 2021, following Kosak’s allegations, SpaceX human resources director Lindsay Chapman shot down her allegations, joking to the crowd “I’ve never been sexually harassed; I must not be hot enough.” When pressed about the rubric that sexual harassment claims are vetted on, Lindsay further replied, “It’s hard to develop [one]. Things are not black and white, they are fifty shades of gray.”

The disregard for the alleged workplace harassment at SpaceX drove Holland-Thielen to make a group chat with fellow employees who shared her concerns in May 2022.

Abdulhak, in the lawsuit, corroborated much of what Holland-Thielen alleged. He added that when he raised concerns about Musk’s conduct to Michael Saqr, the head of a diversity group at SpaceX, the company leader allegedly told him that they were powerless to do anything.

When Abdulhak raised the issue to HR Director Jamin Gallman, they also took no action, the lawsuit claimed.

Claire Mallon, who worked at SpaceX from August 2017 to June 16, 2022, similarly relayed stories of a sexist, discriminatory and harassment-filled workplace. Mallon was allegedly made to do more work than her male colleagues in order to earn a promotion by her boss David Forinash.

Clark, Moline, Beck, Lawrence and Nadeau all alleged similar stories: experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment or other forms of inappropriate behavior that did not align with the company’s espoused values, and when they brought their grievances up to management, they were disregarded.

Tom Moline

Tom Moline

Anne Shaver

The seven all joined Holland-Thielen’s group chat, where they began putting together a 31-page document of all their documented grievances and what they expected from the company. The Open Letter was then shared to the whole company on June 15 and signed by 400 other employees.

It wasn’t long before the company allegedly retaliated by interrogating all suspected employees responsible for writing the letter and firing them soon after.

“Musk personally ordered the Plaintiff’s terminations,” the lawsuit alleges.

All say they suffered emotional distress following their termination.

The group filed a separate lawsuit with the NLRB on May 1 for wrongful termination. Musk initially tried to block the suit by challenging the constitutionality of the NLRB.

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