Elon Musk and SpaceX sued by 8 former employees alleging sexual harassment and retaliation

Eight former SpaceX employees are suing the rocket company and its CEO Elon Musk, alleging that Musk personally ordered their firing after they accused SpaceX of tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace.

The eight employees were all fired in 2022 after they circulated an “open letter” within SpaceX alleging that Musk’s “behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment,” according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by their lawyers.

The lawsuit alleges that Musk “runs his company in the dark ages — treating women as sexual objects to be evaluated on their bra size, bombarding the workplace with lewd sexual banter, and offering the reprise to those who challenge the ‘Animal House’ environment that if they don’t like it they can seek employment elsewhere.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, defended the company Tuesday in comments to The Wall Street Journal in an article detailing many of the former employees’ accusations.

Shotwell told the Journal that its reporting painted “a completely misleading narrative” of the company and that “Elon is one of the best humans I know.” She told the newspaper that SpaceX fully investigates all complaints of harassment and takes appropriate actions.

SpaceX Starship rocket. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images file)
SpaceX Starship rocket. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images file)

The lawsuit alleges several violations of federal and state labor law, including that Musk “engaged in sexually harassing conduct and creation of a hostile work environment personally” and that he retaliated against the employees for “opposing the discrimination, harassment, and hostile work environment that they observed.”

Some of the plaintiffs say they directly experienced sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit. One, Paige Holland-Thielen, an engineer, says that a higher-ranking employee responded to a graph of plotted data by making a “sexual allusion to an erect penis” and asking her, “How can we get it up, up, up?” according to the lawsuit. She reported the matter to SpaceX’s human resources office and didn’t know the outcome, the suit says.

Another plaintiff, engineer Rebekah Clark, said in the lawsuit that she heard comments about breasts at work after Musk made a sexually charged comment on X. She raised her concerns to SpaceX managers at a meeting in 2022 and was told “SpaceX is Elon and Elon is SpaceX,” according to the lawsuit.

And a third, engineer Claire Mallon, says she reported a male colleague to HR for repeatedly bringing up sexually explicit topics with her, including inviting her to a sex party. HR “did not take any discernible action” and the man was promoted, the suit says.

The suit alleges that Musk’s posts on Twitter, now X, encouraged sexually inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace among rank-and-file employees. It cites at least 20 of his posts, including several that make penis references.

NBC News has not independently verified the veracity of the former employees' claims.

The eight firings were already the subject of a complaint against SpaceX brought in January by a National Labor Relations Board regional official, who accused the company of violating federal labor law. SpaceX responded to that complaint with a lawsuit seeking to have the structure of the NLRB declared unconstitutional. The NLRB complaint and the related lawsuit are still pending.

Wednesday’s lawsuit is different from the NLRB complaint because it seeks to hold Musk personally liable for SpaceX’s workplace environment and for the terminations.

“Musk thinks he’s above the law. Our eight brave clients stood up to him and were fired for doing so,” Laurie Burgess, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "We look forward to holding Musk accountable for his actions at trial."

The lawsuit was filed in California state court in Los Angeles, according to the copy provided by the lawyers.

It comes one week after SpaceX was in a worldwide spotlight for successfully launching its 400-foot Starship megarocket on an uncrewed test flight to orbit and back.