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SpaceX paid her $92,000 while men got $115,000, suit says

By Malathi Nayak Washington Post

SpaceX was accused in a lawsuit of discrimination for allegedly paying women and minority employees less than their male and white co-workers.

The proposed class action, which cites California’s Equal Pay Act, was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Ashley Foltz, who says she was hired as a base-level engineer at a salary of $92,000 while the company was offering to pay as much as $115,000 to men with the same or less experience.

Elon Musk’s company and its executives have “no legitimate justification for their discriminatory pay practices,” according to the complaint. “Throughout her employment, Ms. Foltz has been paid less than other male engineers for performing the same or substantially similar work.”

SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The latest complaint against SpaceX comes as the company separately faces a handful of lawsuits by former employees in recent years alleging discrimination on the basis of age, race and disability. In August, a former SpaceX technician sued the company in California state court claiming he experienced physical disability harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Women appear to be struggling as they try to rise up the ranks in corporate America. A report based on research from 276 companies in the U.S. and Canada concluded that for every 100 men promoted to a manager role in 2022, only 87 women received the same boost. The Women in the Workplace report by Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. found that the number of women promoted inched up from 86 in 2021, but they’re still getting overlooked despite asking for promotions at the same rate as men.

Foltz discovered the pay gap at SpaceX when a new California pay transparency law, which requires employers to post salary ranges in job listings, went into effect this year, she said in her complaint. Her salary band was $95,000 to $115,000 and SpaceX was forced to give her a raise, but only bumped her pay to $95,000, the lowest tier of the salary band, she said.

SpaceX sorts jobs into positions and levels such as “technical writer,” “engineer 1” and “engineer 2,” according to the complaint.

That’s part of a scheme “to create a facially neutral pay structure,” Foltz said in the suit. Women and minorities “are forced to work as engineers under a different title of technical writer to illegally justify a lower pay,” she claimed. Moreover, they are promoted at lower rates than male and white employees and are paid at the lowest end of the salary band if promoted, she said.

In August, the U.S. Justice Department accused SpaceX of discriminating for years against refugees and people granted political asylum who sought jobs at the rocket company, in a lawsuit filed in August. SpaceX has argued the complaint is unlawful and must be dismissed.

Musk’s electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc. has also faced complaints from Black workers and California state agencies that managers at its Fremont factory turned a blind eye to the commonplace use of racial slurs on the assembly line and fostered a hostile workplace where graffiti with swastikas and other hate symbols were found scrawled in common areas.

The case is Foltz v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., 23STCV24097, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County.