SpaceX executives illegally fired nine employees who opposed CEO Elon Musk’s tweets, a complaint filed this week with allegations from the national labor board.

After a group of employees complained this summer that Musk’s frequent tweets of insults, s*xual puns and political statements reflected badly on the space exploration company, management directed employees to be fired, labor allegations. According to the workers, five of them were fired immediately and four more were fired over the next two months.

Now, lawyers for eight SpaceX employees have filed a motion a formal complaint to the National Labor Relations Board to get their jobs back.

SpaceX “missed an amazing opportunity to improve the company’s culture and instead just fired them. And that’s just tragic. I mean, that’s the type of workers you want,” Anne Shaver, partner of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who represents the workers behind the complaint, told CBS MoneyWatch.

“The letter they sent was incredibly diplomatic – they really hoped to create a dialogue to make the company a better place to work for everyone, to help the mission succeed. The message at SpaceX has always been: anyone at any level can raise concerns,” she said.

Musk’s management of SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, which he now owns, came under scrutiny after he took control of the social media company. Employees on Twitter also said they had lost their jobs after his leadership was questioned.

Allegations of harassment

In May, there were allegations that Musk had exposed himself to SpaceX flight attendantand that the company gave her a $250,000 settlement in exchange for her silence. Musk rejected the report, urging the prosecutor to “describe anything” about his body “that is not known to the public.” He happily he suggested calling the scandal “Elongate” and went further tell another Twitter user: “Okay, if you touch my sausage, you can have a horse.”

Other comments the CEO tweeted were: “Jack in the Box should double as a sperm clinic”; image of dinosaurs mating; and various posts opposing the use of pronouns in written communication to indicate someone’s gender.

In an open letter to Musk in June, employees asked SpaceX to clarify employee conduct policies and apply those policies uniformly across the company. Separately, they asked SpaceX to “condemn” Musk’s “harmful behavior” on Twitter.

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“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us,” the staff wrote in a letter, a copy of which was deposited with the NLRB on Wednesday.

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is de facto a public statement from the company. It is very important to make it clear to our teams and our potential talent pool that his messages do not reflect our work, our mission or our values. SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values,” they wrote.

Letter to Musk ‘distraction’

On June 16, the day after the letter was circulated, SpaceX fired Tom Moline, a senior engineer who helped lead the preparation of the letter, along with four other employees, according to the NLRB’s complaint. The company fired four other employees involved in disseminating the letter in July and August.

On the same day that Moline and four others were fired, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell called the letter a “distraction” in an email, saying the company “doesn’t need this kind of over-the-top activism.”

“The letter, the requests and the general process left employees feeling uncomfortable, intimidated and intimidated and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign up to something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell said in an email, which was filed with the NLRB along with the workers’ complaint.

“We have investigated and fired many of the employees involved,” she said.

It is illegal under federal law to retaliate against employees who attempt to improve their conditions, including by collectively reporting workplace concerns.

If the labor council agrees that workers have been illegally laid off, it can order SpaceX to rehire them and offer back wages.

The employees’ lawyer also did not rule out filing a private lawsuit against the company, claiming that SpaceX broke several laws when it fired them, including federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

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Employees said their firing was a shock.

“Part of what was supposed to be so great about SpaceX was that anyone at any level could escalate issues to leadership and be taken seriously and treated with respect,” Paige Holland-Thielen, another of the laid-off employees, said in a statement. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”

Employees were dismayed by what they perceived as a turning back on Shotwell, who was initially supportive, Moline told the New York Times, who first reported labor charges.

“I thought he was doing a good job of protecting and defending us from the worst impulses that Elon and others could have had,” he told the outlet. “Finally realizing that she wasn’t that savior – broke my trust.”

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