SpaceX Intern Alleges Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

SpaceX Facility

Julia CrowleyFarenga, a previous intern at Space X, has recently filed a lawsuit against the company claiming they retaliated against her after she complained about the gender discrimination and sexual harassment she was subjected to by her manager.

The lawsuit, filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, goes on to claim that the main reason CrowleyFarenga was not offered a job at SpaceX, after her three year internship, was due to reporting her manager Erik Palitsch to HR for his inappropriate comments and actions towards her.

At SpaceX, CrowleyFarenga interned at the Propulsion Department for the summers of 2015, 2016 and 2017. It was during her last summer interning that CrowleyFarenga claims her manager began to say comments and act in ways that made her extremely uncomfortable. The complaint goes on to describe that Palitsch made “several unwelcome advances” and began giving special attention to which men CrowleyFarenga spoke to.

Specifically, the complaint details Palitsch being “possessive and jealous” as he would ask CrowleyFarenga to refrain from talking with her male colleagues. Palitsch would also comment about the men she talked to and would tell CrowleyFarenga that she “talks to men too much.” On another occasion CrowleyFarenga claims that after Palitsch saw her speak to an unknown colleague at work Palitsch came up to her to ask if that was her boyfriend to warn her to “be careful who you are seen talking to, people may get the wrong impression.”

Besides the inappropriate comments the complaint also describes how Palitsch would coerce CrowleyFarenga to meet with him at a manager meeting. While every employee had to assist these one on one meetings, they are on standard  only 30 minutes long. However, with CrowleyFarenga, Palitsch would drag on these meeting for up to two hours in order to talk about non-work related things. It was during these meetings that Palitsch would allegedly try to steer the conversation away from work and make advances towards her by saying comments like “Wouldn’t this [meeting] be better if we were at Harry Potter World?” as well saying to CrowleyFarenga “You are unique; I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure you out.”

Soon after CrowleyFarenga complained to HR about Palitsch’s inappropriate behavior, she met with SpaceX’s vice president of the propulsion department Will Heltsley.  Heltsley  accepted that there was “some problematic behavior happening” and that he would move CrowleyFarenga to a different team. However, the lawsuit goes on to explain that despite acknowledging CrowleyFarenga’s complaint Haltsley had still asked a male intern to investigate the complaint in order to see if “this is happening because Erik [Palitsch] is Erik or because you are you.”

Once CrowleyFarenga finished her studies she applied for a full time job at SpaceX in January 2018 only to be told that she was not given the job due to her “low performance.” CrowleyFarenga claims that until she only received one negative review in August 2017 despite getting previous feedback that she was doing fine. CrowleyFarenga was told she could reapply at a later date but when she did the job was again not given to her despite being told that she was “very well liked.” The complaint alleges that CrowleyFarenga “later learned that Heltsley had stopped her from being hired.”

CrowleyFarenga is currently working for NASA, an is seeking a jury trial for damages to cover the “emotional injuries including nervousness, humiliation, depression, and anxiety,” from her experience at SpaceX.


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