SpaceX countersues DOJ over hiring discrimination case

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SpaceX countersued the Department of Justice (DOJ) to try and stop a case from proceeding that alleged the company engaged in discriminatory hiring practices against refugees and those granted asylum in the U.S. 

In a complaint filed Friday, SpaceX argued the DOJ lawsuit was unconstitutional because it would play out in administrative proceedings, rather than in a federal court, and, therefore, would deny the company of its right to a jury trial.

“Given these clear constitutional defects, the Court should preliminarily and permanently enjoin the pending administrative proceedings, declare them unlawful, instruct the [Administrative Law Judge] to dismiss the case, and grant such other relief as the Court finds appropriate without delay,” SpaceX wrote in the complaint.

In August, the DOJ sued SpaceX after a long investigation into its hiring practices. The DOJ claimed that SpaceX regularly deployed tactics to discourage refugees and people granted asylum from applying to certain positions and would decline to consider their applications. 

The DOJ, in August, also pushed back on SpaceX’s claim that “export control laws” prevented the company from hiring noncitizens who were not otherwise legal permanent residents. 

“Export control laws impose no such hiring restrictions,” the DOJ claimed at the time. “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,” the DOJ added in a press release in August.

SpaceX, in the countersuit, also defended itself on the merits, claiming it “has not engaged in any practice or pattern of discriminating against anyone, including asylees or refugees.”

The company said its leaders also want to make sure they adhere to U.S. laws, however, and avoid any hefty fines. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the work, SpaceX claimed, there are certain restrictions on whom the company can employ.

“Absent any legal or regulatory restrictions, SpaceX would hire the most talented people on Earth regardless of their origin. In fact, SpaceX has hired hundreds of noncitizens, including hires who were not U.S. Persons under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR),” the complaint read.

“But because SpaceX designs and manufactures sensitive technologies—including technologies with military applications—SpaceX faces legal mandates under export control laws and regulations, including the ITAR, as well as under some of its government contracts that impose strict limitations on who it can employ,” the complaint continued.

SpaceX said that it asks applicants to self-identify their immigration status “to help SpaceX with the process of assessing whether they are U.S. Persons for ITAR purposes,” adding that, “In SpaceX’s experience, many applicants who self-identify as asylees or refugees are not in fact asylees or refugees and therefore not in fact U.S. Persons.”

Still, SpaceX insisted it “follows strict policies and procedures to both ensure compliance with all export control laws and regulations and also prevent any unlawful discrimination, including discrimination against refugees and asylees.”

The countersuit named three DOJ officials as defendants in their official capacities, including Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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