SpaceX sues labor board over firings

The SpaceX logo is displayed on a building, May 26, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (David J. Phillip/AP File Photo)
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SpaceX has filed a lawsuit against the National Labor Relations Board after the NLRB charged the company with illegally firing employees who criticized SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk in an open letter in 2022.

The NLRB charged that SpaceX illegally terminated eight employees who drafted and disseminated the June 2022 letter, which described Musk’s public behavior at the time as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us” and called on the company’s leadership to “publicly address and condemn” Musk’s social media behavior.

A sexual harassment allegation against Musk likewise was tarnishing SpaceX’s reputation, according to the letter’s authors, who insisted the company “swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.”

The employees were quickly fired, with SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell telling remaining staff in an email that distribution of the letter “made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.”

The fired employees filed charges with the NLRB the following November, accusing SpaceX of retaliation. On Jan. 3 of this year, a NLRB regional director in Los Angeles filed a complaint against the Hawthorne, California-based company over the firings, demanding reinstatement of the employees and back pay, plus letters of apology. If SpaceX chooses not to settle, the company faces a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge in March.

On Jan. 4, SpaceX filed its 25-page suit against the NLRB in federal court in Brownsville, alleging that the agency’s attempt to subject SpaceX to an administrative hearing violates the Constitution, since the NRLB’ss administrative law judges are “unconstitutionally insulated from presidential oversight” in violation of Article II of the Fifth Amendment, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also argues that subjecting SpaceX to an NLRB administrative hearing deprives the company of its right to a jury trial, which SpaceX called a “fundamental component” of the U.S. legal system that serves as a barrier to “government arbitrariness.”

The suit also asks the court to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the NLRB from going through with the hearing regarding the fired employees.

“Without interim injunctive relief from this Court, SpaceX’s claims will be improperly adjudicated by an administrator instead of a jury,” the lawsuit claims, and also that “unless the NLRB is enjoined from proceeding against SpaceX before an NLRB (administrative law judge) rather than a jury, SpaceX will be irreparably harmed.”