The Justice Department sues SpaceX for Asylee and Refugee Employment Discrimination.

The Justice Department sues SpaceX for Asylee and Refugee Employment Discrimination.

The Justice Department sues SpaceX for Asylee and Refugee Employment Discrimination. Today, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) for discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers. The lawsuit alleges that SpaceX violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) between September 2018 and May 2022 by routinely discouraging asylees and refugees from applying and refusing to hire or consider them based on their citizenship status.

Throughout several years of job postings and public statements, SpaceX falsely asserted that under federal regulations known as “export control laws,” it could only hire U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, also known as “green card holders.” The export control laws impose no such restrictions on recruiting.

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In addition, the permission of asylees and refugees to live and work in the United States does not expire, and they have the same status under export control laws as U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Under these regulations, companies such as SpaceX are permitted to hire asylees and refugees for the same positions for which they would hire U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. Moreover, once employed, asylees and refugees have the same access to export-controlled information and materials as U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

“Our investigation revealed that SpaceX failed to fairly consider or hire asylees and refugees based on their citizenship status and imposed what amounted to a ban on their hiring regardless of their qualifications, in violation of federal law,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. “Our investigation also revealed that SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials actively discouraged asylum seekers and refugees from applying for employment at the company. Asylees and refugees have overcome numerous obstacles; employment discrimination based on their citizenship status should not be one of them. Through this lawsuit, we will hold SpaceX accountable for its unlawful employment practices and seek relief to enable asylees and refugees to compete equitably for job openings and contribute their talents to SpaceX’s workforce.”

At multiple phases of the hiring process, SpaceX allegedly discriminated against asylees and refugees based on their citizenship status, as alleged in the lawsuit filed by the department. For instance:

  • SpaceX discouraged asylees and migrants from applying for open positions by excluding them from public announcements, job applications, and other online recruiting materials.
  • Asylees’ and refugees’ applications were not evaluated equitably by SpaceX.
  • SpaceX refused to employ qualified asylee and refugee applicants and rejected them repeatedly due to their citizenship status.
  • From September 2018 to September 2020, SpaceX only engaged U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents.

In addition to welders, cooks, crane operators, baristas, and dishwashers, SpaceX recruits and employs information technology specialists, software engineers, business analysts, rocket engineers, and marketing professionals. The positions in the lawsuit are not restricted to those requiring a graduate degree. 

Asylees and exiles in the United States are migrants who fled persecution. To obtain their status, they must undergo a comprehensive screening by the U.S. government. Employers may not discriminate against them in employment unless a law, regulation, executive order, or government contract requires it. According to the complaint, no law, regulation, executive order, or government contract required or authorized SpaceX to engage in the pervasive discrimination against asylees and refugees that the department’s investigation revealed.

SpaceX must conform with export control laws and regulations, such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and the Export Administration Regulations because it handles export-controlled goods, software, technology, and technical data. By these regulations, asylees, refugees, lawful permanent residents, U.S. citizens, and U.S. nationals working for U.S. companies can access export-controlled items without government authorization. As a result, SpaceX is not required by these regulations to treat asylees and refugees differently than U.S. citizens and green card holders. Learn how employers can avoid discrimination while adhering to export control requirements.

The United States seeks equitable consideration and back pay for asylees and refugees discouraged or denied employment at SpaceX due to discrimination allegations. In addition, the United States seeks civil penalties in an amount to be determined by the court. It changes its policies to ensure future compliance with the INA’s nondiscrimination mandate.

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