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The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) for discriminating against asylees and refugees in hiring. The lawsuit alleges that, from at least September 2018 to May 2022, SpaceX routinely discouraged asylees and refugees from applying and refused to hire or consider them, because of their citizenship status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In job postings and public statements over several years, SpaceX wrongly claimed that under federal regulations known as “export control laws,” SpaceX could hire only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, sometimes referred to as “green card holders.” Export control laws impose no such hiring restrictions. Moreover, asylees’ and refugees’ permission to live and work in the United States does not expire, and they stand on equal footing with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents under export control laws. Under these laws, companies like SpaceX can hire asylees and refugees for the same positions they would hire U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. And once hired, asylees and refugees can access export-controlled information and materials without additional government approval, just like U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
“Our investigation found that SpaceX failed to fairly consider or hire asylees and refugees because of their citizenship status and imposed what amounted to a ban on their hire regardless of their qualification, in violation of federal law,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation also found that SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company. Asylees and refugees have overcome many obstacles in their lives, and unlawful employment discrimination based on their citizenship status should not be one of them. Through this lawsuit we will hold SpaceX accountable for its illegal employment practices and seek relief that allows asylees and refugees to fairly compete for job opportunities and contribute their talents to SpaceX’s workforce.”
The department’s lawsuit alleges that SpaceX discriminated against asylees and refugees based on citizenship status at multiple stages of the hiring process. For example:
SpaceX recruits and hires for a variety of positions, including welders, cooks, crane operators, baristas and dishwashers, as well as information technology specialists, software engineers, business analysts, rocket engineers and marketing professionals. The jobs at issue in the lawsuit are not limited to those that require advanced degrees.
Asylees and refugees are migrants to the United States who have fled persecution. To obtain their status, they undergo thorough vetting by the United States government. Under the INA, employers cannot discriminate against them in hiring, unless a law, regulation, executive order or government contract requires the employer to do so. In this instance, no law, regulation, executive order or government contract required or permitted SpaceX to engage in the widespread discrimination against asylees or refugees that the department’s investigation found, as explained in the complaint.
Because SpaceX works with certain goods, software, technology and technical data (referred to here as export-controlled items), SpaceX must comply with export control laws and regulations, including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and the Export Administration Regulations. Under these regulations, asylees, refugees, lawful permanent residents, U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals working at U.S. companies can access export-controlled items without authorization from the U.S. government. Therefore, these laws do not require SpaceX to treat asylees and refugees differently than U.S. citizens or green card holders. Find more information here on how employers can avoid discrimination when complying with export control requirements.
The United States seeks fair consideration and back pay for asylees and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination. The United States also seeks civil penalties in an amount to be determined by the court and policy changes to ensure it complies with the INA’s nondiscrimination mandate going forward.
Please contact the department’s Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) at IERSpaceXcase@usdoj.gov or 1-888-473-3845 if you are or were an asylee or refugee who experienced any one of the following at any point in time:
(1) You applied to a job at SpaceX and were rejected.
(2) You were discouraged from applying to SpaceX because you were not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
(3) A recruiter or other SpaceX employee told you that SpaceX could only hire U.S. citizens and/or lawful permanent residents.
IER is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. Among other things, the statute generally prohibits discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practices; retaliation; and intimidation.
Learn more about IER’s work and how to get assistance through this brief video. Applicants or employees who believe they were discriminated against based on their citizenship, immigration status or national origin in hiring, firing, recruitment or during the employment eligibility verification process (Form I-9 and E-Verify); or subjected to retaliation, may file a charge. The public can also call IER’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); call IER’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); e-mail IER@usdoj.gov; sign up for a free webinar; or visit IER’s English and Spanish websites. Subscribe for e-mail updates from IER.