SpaceX Accused of Discrimination Against Foreign Job Applicants

February 2, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. (SpaceX via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is accusing SpaceX of stonewalling for information after a job applicant filed a complaint saying the rocket company discriminates against foreign citizens.

U.S. attorneys said in a court filing last week that they subpoenaed documents about an applicant’s complaint but Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, never replied with complete information.

The Justice Department is asking a federal court in California to order SpaceX to comply with the subpoena within two weeks.

The applicant, Fabian Hutter, filed his discrimination complaint with the Justice Department’s  Immigrant and Employee Rights, or IER, division. Hutter is a dual national of Canada and Austria.

The subpoena was issued by the Justice Department’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer.

SpaceX responded in August by sending the Justice Department an Internal Revenue Service Form I-9 spreadsheet of information about employees dating to June 2019.

However, the company declined the Justice Department’s request “to produce any Form I-9 supporting documentation, such as copies of employees’ passports, driver’s licenses or Social Security cards,” Justice Department attorney Lisa Sandoval wrote in her filing in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The Justice Department added, “On December 11, 2020, SpaceX acknowledged receipt of [the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer’s] order but notified [the Immigrant and Employee Rights division] that it ‘does not intend to produce any additional information in response to the administrative subpoena. As of the date of this application, SpaceX has failed to comply with any part of OCAHO’s order.”

California-based SpaceX was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk with a goal of reducing space transportation costs and privatizing space exploration. The company has an ultimate goal of colonizing Mars.

Its achievements include the first privately funded liquid propellant rocket to reach orbit. It also was the first corporation to launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft, which it did in 2010 with its Dragon rocket. Then in 2012, SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is now in a competition with NASA to determine who will launch the next manned missions to the Moon.

SpaceX’s directors and staff represent some of the world’s top technology and space exploration experts. Hutter applied last March to become a technology strategist.

“The charge alleges that on or about March 10, 2020, during the charging party’s interview for the position of technology strategy associate, SpaceX made inquiries about his citizenship status and ultimately failed to hire him for the position because he is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident,” a Justice Department court filing said.

The Justice Department served its subpoena on SpaceX in October and met with company officials a few weeks later.

“At the meeting, SpaceX counsel asked some clarifying questions about the subpoena, which IER answered, but SpaceX refused to provide the subpoenaed documents, even after IER offered to allow SpaceX to produce them over an extended period of time,” the Justice Department filing said.

SpaceX officials asked Justice Department attorneys to modify their subpoena. They filed a petition with the Justice Department’s administrative tribunal to dismiss the subpoena on grounds it was vague, burdensome and exceeded the Immigrant and Employee Rights division’s authority.

Part of the subpoena asked for information on employment eligibility verification for more than 3,000 SpaceX employees.

The SpaceX petition was denied.

SpaceX said Hutter gave an “unimpressive” interview and “could not conceive of being rejected for legitimate reasons.” The company said in a court filing that Hutter’s claim of discrimination was based on “hurt feelings.”

By July 1, after Hutter’s interview, SpaceX said it had rejected every applicant for the technology strategist job.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department said it had met all legal standards for a subpoena when it asked for the court order last week.

The case is USA v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. d/b/a SpaceX, case number 2:21-mc-00043, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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