Updated March 5th, 2024 at 16:47 IST

SpaceX faces hearing over engineer firings amid allegations of sexism

The company filed a lawsuit in January, seeking to halt the proceedings, arguing that the board's internal enforcement procedures violate the US Constitution.

Reported by: Business Desk
SpaceX | Image:Republic
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SpaceX, the renowned rocket manufacturer led by CEO Elon Musk, is set to appear before a US labour board judge to address allegations of unjustly firing eight engineers. The engineers claim they were dismissed for criticising Musk and accusing him of sexist behaviour in a letter addressed to company executives.

The case, scheduled before National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge Sharon Steckler in Los Angeles, has sparked legal manoeuvring from SpaceX. The company filed a lawsuit in January, seeking to halt the proceedings, arguing that the board's internal enforcement procedures violate the US Constitution.

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According to the NLRB's general counsel, SpaceX allegedly violated US labour laws by terminating the engineers in 2022 after they circulated a letter accusing Musk of sexism and alleging that the company condoned discrimination against women. The NLRB claims SpaceX breached the National Labour Relations Act, which safeguards workers' rights to unite and advocate for improved working conditions.

In response, the engineers have lodged complaints with a California civil rights agency, asserting that SpaceX tolerated sex discrimination and retaliated against employees who voiced concerns.

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SpaceX has refuted these accusations while simultaneously challenging the legitimacy of the labour board's functions. The company's lawsuit, initially filed in Texas federal court, was transferred to California by a judge last month, aligning with the venue of the ongoing labour board case.

However, SpaceX is contesting this decision in an appeals court. Meanwhile, the California judge has remanded the case to Texas pending the outcome of the appeal.

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Kayla Blado, a spokeswoman for the board, indicated that the upcoming hearing will primarily focus on procedural matters, such as the scope of subpoenas and establishing a schedule for future proceedings. Testimony and opening statements will not be presented during this phase.

Should SpaceX be found liable, potential repercussions include reinstating the terminated workers and compensating them for lost wages and benefits. Judge Steckler's ruling can be appealed to the five-member board and subsequently to a federal appeals court.

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Despite requests for comment, SpaceX remained silent. The company is being represented by lawyers from Morgan Lewis & Bockius, including John Ring, the former chairman of the NLRB during the Trump administration.

SpaceX's efforts to delay the hearing pending the outcome of its Texas court proceedings were denied by the NLRB regional director, a decision upheld by the five-member board.

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In its lawsuit, SpaceX argues that the labour board's administrative process infringes upon its constitutional right to a jury trial. The company also challenges the limitations on the president's authority to remove administrative judges and board members as unconstitutional.

Notably, other companies facing union organizing campaigns, such as Starbucks, Amazon, and Trader Joe's, have raised similar objections in pending board cases.

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The labour board contends that Supreme Court precedents have upheld protections akin to those for board judges and members, and that the right to a jury trial does not extend to cases brought under federal labour law.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Published March 5th, 2024 at 16:47 IST