Elon Musk’s SpaceX Fires Back: Launches Epic ‘Crusade’ to Smash Allegations of Sexism

Frederic Legrand - COMEO / shutterstock.com
Frederic Legrand - COMEO / shutterstock.com

SpaceX finds itself entangled in a legal skirmish of monumental proportions, as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accuses the pioneering space exploration firm of violating U.S. labor law. At the center of the controversy are allegations that SpaceX unlawfully terminated engineers in 2022 after they circulated a letter criticizing CEO Elon Musk for purported sexist behavior and accusing the company of tolerating discrimination against women.

The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, acting as a prosecutor, asserts that SpaceX’s actions violate the National Labor Relations Act, under which workers have the right to collectively bargain and advocate for improved conditions. Furthermore, the aggrieved engineers have filed separate complaints with a California civil rights agency, alleging sexual discrimination and retaliatory measures against dissenting workers.

In a dramatic turn of events, SpaceX has vehemently denied any wrongdoing while launching a scathing assault on the labor board’s core functions. The unfolding saga began with U.S. Labor Board judge Sharon Steckler presiding over a multi-day hearing via Zoom from Los Angeles, marking a significant milestone more than a year after the NLRB first lodged its grievances against SpaceX. This clash of titans triggered a legal showdown, with SpaceX firing back with a counter-suit filed in a Texas federal court, challenging the NLRB’s accusations and questioning the constitutionality of its structure.

However, the company’s challenge to this decision faced a setback as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed their appeal. Harry Johnson, representing SpaceX, revealed during a recent hearing at the NLRB that the company is exploring various options in response to the appellate court’s decision.

This includes the possibility of seeking a reconsideration of the ruling from the full appeals court. Notably, federal courts in Texas have emerged as a favored battleground for legal challenges, benefitting from a concentration of conservative judges and the jurisdiction of the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit.

SpaceX had requested to postpone the hearing, citing the company’s appeal in a Texas court to prevent the labor board case from advancing. However, the NLRB regional director dismissed the motion last month. A five-member board with one vacancy upheld the director’s decision in a brief ruling.

The procedural nature of Tuesday’s hearing primarily focused on challenges to subpoenas issued by both parties, with no testimony or opening statements presented. Judge Sharon Steckler indicated plans for further hearings in May, foreseeing a week-long duration for the proceedings.

The stakes are undeniably high for SpaceX, as a potential adverse ruling could compel the company to reinstate terminated workers and provide compensation for lost wages and benefits. Legal representation from the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, including Harry Johnson and John Ring, former chairman of the NLRB during the Trump administration, underscores the gravity of the situation.

Despite SpaceX’s efforts to delay the legal proceedings, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) successfully motioned to proceed with the case against the company. The lawsuit filed by SpaceX challenges the constitutionality of the NLRB’s administrative process, which the company argues infringes on its right to a jury trial. SpaceX has also raised concerns regarding the constitutionality of the restrictions on the president’s authority to remove administrative judges and board members.

Based on court filings, the labor board states that the Supreme Court has upheld the removal protections for board judges and members. Also, it is important to note that the right to a jury trial does not extend to cases brought under federal labor law.

The industry is closely watching this legal battle as it could have significant implications for labor relations in the aerospace industry. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching effects on other companies and potentially set a new precedent in labor law. However, the labor board contends that established legal precedents support its administrative procedures and refute SpaceX’s constitutional claims.