Eight former SpaceX employees filed a lawsuit alleging that SpaceX violated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regulations when SpaceX fired them. They claim that the firings amounted to retaliation for asking management to condemn Elon Musk’s “harmful” public statements on Twitter.
They allege that the request, plus an open letter condemning Musk’s behavior, are covered by NLRB regulations protecting “concerted protected activities.” Their letter called Musk’s controversial tweets a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.”
They claim that Musk’s public statements contributed to a toxic workplace environment. Elon Musk previously called allegations that he exposed himself to a female flight attendant on a private plane “untrue.” He also has a bad habit of making poorly considered sexual jokes and throwing around baseless accusations like calling one rescuer a “pedo” during a dramatic rescue of a sports team trapped in a cave.
The former employees allege that they were subjected to what one of the plaintiffs, Paige Holland-Thielen, described as “ongoing mistreatment, harassment, and abuse.” Their initial letter also accused senior management of unevenly enforcing SpaceX’s famous “no assholes” policy.
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell described the “no assholes” policy this way at a commencement speech at Northwestern University: “These kinds of people — assholes — interrupt others; they shut down or co-opt conversation; and they create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute. … Embrace the ideas of your fellow workers, especially when they differ greatly from yours.”
Shotwell criticized the process by which the now-fired employees attempted to collect signatures for their letter to management, saying that it made employees feel “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied.” She alleged in a company-wide email that they were pressuring employees to sign something they disagreed with.
The eight employees say that they are also filing a formal complaint with the NLRB, which will launch its own investigation. The NLRB previously took action against Tesla for attempting to forbid employees to wear shirts with labor union logos at work and ordered Musk to take down an anti-union tweet. A judge also ruled that Tesla improperly fired pro-union activities.
SpaceX did not issue a public statement about the lawsuit brought by the eight former employees. Neither SpaceX nor Tesla have media relations departments.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs, Laurie Burgess, had this to say about it:
“It’s shocking that SpaceX appears to believe that its mission of getting humans to Mars justifies turning a blind eye to workers’ basic civil rights. I’m proud to represent the brave employees who stepped up to challenge SpaceX’s conduct by collectively advocating for basic workplace protections.”
In the meantime? Well, maybe Elon Musk would benefit from running his tweets past a lawyer first like a judge in a previous case against his companies required him to do. Meanwhile, it would be reasonable to assume that his tweets don’t reflect the views of the employees working for his companies.