A former SpaceX technician alleges in a lawsuit that the company’s corporate culture forces technicians to cut corners, break federal law and places both human lives and millions of dollars at risk.
Justin Blasdell, a SpaceX technician from November 2010 until April 2014, participated on marquee projects including the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.
“What we’ve got here is a classic whistleblower case where an honest, hard-working test technician has been spurned for doing his job diligently and making ethical recommendations that were not popular with management and followed by the unceremonious, retaliatory, wrongful termination of our client,” Blasdell’s legal counsel Carney Shegerian said in opening statements at the trial on Tuesday, according a press release from Shegerian.
Blasdell’s legal team claims the SpaceX failed to mark and serialize parts, making it impossible for him to guarantee quality and safety of key components of the company’s rockets. When he raised such concerns, he claims he was told to sign off on the documentation regardless of whether he could verify their quality.
Such practices “were extremely dangerous and could possibly lead to a damaged or faulty part ending up in a SpaceX rocket, which could result in a rocket exploding in orbit, and worse, could result in the catastrophic loss of human life,” Blasdell’s complaint claims, as cited by Law360.
Among the evidence submitted by the plaintiff, jurors were shown an email in which a manager told Blasdell that it “took a lot of balls to go out on a limb like [he] did,” but urged him to keep the discussion under wraps, “since it could result in [their] termination.”
Blasdell also claims to have gone through the proper procedure when flagging concerns with management, which culminated in a meeting with SpaceX President Gwen Shotwell and a separate meeting with CEO Elon Musk himself in early 2014.
During the meeting with Shotwell, she allegedly told Blasdell: “Don’t tell Elon, do not tell Elon. If he finds out about this, we will all get fired.”
SpaceX lawyer Lynne Hermle was quick to dismiss such claims out of hand.
“Jason Blasdell is not a whistleblower and this is not a whistleblower case,” Hermle said in her opening statement, claiming the testing allegations were made retrospectively only after Blasdell had been dismissed.
“The evidence will show you that Jason Blasdell did not observe or witness any unlawful testing of rocket parts at SpaceX… Jason Blasdell never complained about or reported any unlawful testing to anyone at SpaceX,” Hermle said.
The defense also submitted into evidence that Blasdell, a former marine, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) while at the company and had been prescribed amphetamines as part of his treatment.
However, Blasdell allegedly became increasingly hostile and obsessive after a promising start at the company, which included winning the coveted ‘SpaceX Kick Ass Award’ for performing above and beyond the requirements of his position, the defense claims.
“Managers would acknowledge the problems, but they wouldn’t get fixed,” Blasdell told jurors.
“When Jason comes into the office area and the shooting starts, I’m jumping over the wall,” a former colleague wrote in an email which was read out by Hermle, who claimed that the plaintiff became “so obsessed with finding efficiency problems” that he failed to perform his duties.
RT has reached out to both parties for comment and will update the story with any updates.
The jury in the Los Angeles state court is being asked to decide whether Blasdell had good enough reason to believe testing documents were falsified at the company and whether his firing was unjustified.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.