Former intern says SpaceX retaliated after sexual harassment complaint

A former SpaceX intern has sued the rocket company for alleged retaliation against her after she made sexual harassment complaints. She claims the company purposely didn’t hire her after she shared concerns with superiors.

Julia CrowleyFarenga was a summer intern in 2015, 2016, and 2017. During that time, she complained to a superior that her line manager, Erik Palitsch, made “unwelcome advances,” including long meetings not extended to male interns and “possessive and jealous” behavior, according to legal papers filed in Los Angeles on Aug. 21.

Palitsch is no longer an employee with SpaceX, having left the company in 2018 to start his own business.

CrowleyFarenga — now a NASA engineer — claims she reported several comments to HR, including phrases like, “You are unique, I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure you out,” and “be careful who you are seen talking to, people may get the wrong impression about why you are here.”

After Palitsch continued to escalate his remarks, CrowleyFarenga complained to Will Heltsley, vice president of the propulsion team at SpaceX, according to the lawsuit. During the meeting, Heltsley allegedly agreed that there was “problematic behavior happening,” but wanted to speak to a male intern to find out if  “it is happening because Erik is Erik or because you are you,” the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint filed by CrrowleyFarenga, Heltsley offered her a transfer to a different team, which she said she felt forced to accept.

After receiving unexpected negative feedback at the end of her third internship term, CrowleyFarenga was not offered a job because of “low performance,” but was encouraged to apply for hiring at a later date.

In January 2018, she applied for an alternative role in SpaceX’s Customer Operations and Integration Department. After numerous positive comments from recruiters and interviewers, she was not extended an offer. According to the complaint,  CrowleyFarenga claims she learned the job offer was halted by Heltsley.

CrowleyFarenga is demanding a trial by jury “on all causes of action.”  She is suing for damages, including the lost SpaceX position, wages, benefits, and “emotional injuries” such as humiliation, depression, and anxiety following her experience,

Digital Trends reached out to SpaceX and CrowleyFarenga’s attorney for comment. We will update this story when we hear back.

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