SpaceX accused of paying less to women and minority engineers

Suit alleges female staff were forced to start as technical writers despite doing largely same work

SpaceX is facing another employment lawsuit, this time by a female former worker who claims the company pays women and minority employees less than their white male counterparts, in violation of California's Equal Pay Act.

The case (23STCV24097 – PDF), filed in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles, was brought by former SpaceX engineer Ashley Foltz on behalf of herself and a group of other employees. It alleges the company routinely pays female and/or minority workers less than those that are male and white.

Specifically, Foltz claims she was hired as a Propulsion Engineer on a team of all male engineers for a salary of $92,000, while her colleagues with similar or less experience were paid up to $115,000.

The court filing says this came to light when a California law came into force requiring salary ranges to be listed on all advertised job openings, and this revealed the band for Foltz's role was $95,000 to $115,000, meaning she was being paid less than the starting salary.

In response, SpaceX was forced to increase her salary, but the lawsuit claims the company then only raised her pay to $95,000, the minimum threshold of her pay band. The complaint alleges that it was common practice for employees like Foltz to be retained at the lowest pay band, regardless of their level of experience prior to joining the company.

The filing also claims that SpaceX used its organizational structure to create the illusion of an equal pay scheme. It further alleges that female and minority employees are started as "technical writers" before they are offered positions as engineers, while other employees are hired directly as engineers at higher compensation levels.

This is despite those workers performing substantially the same work or having similar qualifications to their higher paid colleagues, the lawsuit claims. Effectively, it alleges that female and minority employees of SpaceX are working as engineers under the title of technical writer in order to justify paying them less.

"Forcing female and minority employees to start as technical writers when white and male employees are not — and then using that as a means to justify lower pay — is discriminatory," the complaint says.

In the court filing, Foltz also claims that female and minority SpaceX employees are further disadvantaged by being less likely to be promoted to a more senior engineer grade than their colleagues.

California's Equal Pay Act requires companies to provide equal pay to employees who perform "substantially similar work," meaning that it is comparable in skill, effort, responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.

There are a number of justifications for pay differences, which include seniority, merit, productivity, or a "bona fide" factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity. However, employers must show that these factors can reasonably account for the difference in wages.

SpaceX was not immediately available to comment, but we will update this article with a response from the company if we receive one.

The Musk-owned space launch biz was also served with a lawsuit in August over discriminatory hiring practices. In that case it was accused of discriminating against asylum seekers and refugees, discouraging such individuals from applying for jobs at the company.

SpaceX's latest launch was today, October 9 at 12:23am Pacific Time, when a Falcon 9 delivered 21 satellites for the Starlink satellite broadband service into low-Earth orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. ®

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