CLAIM BY SPACEX WORKER RE­JECTED

Tech­ni­cian al­leged in court he was fired for rais­ing con­cerns that test re­sults were faked.

Los Angeles Times - - TECHNOLOGY - By Sa­man­tha Ma­sunaga sa­man­tha.ma­sunaga @la­times.com

For­mer SpaceX tech­ni­cian Jason Blas­dell claimed he was fired from the Elon Musk-led com­pany in 2014 be­cause he raised con­cerns with man­age­ment that test­ing pro­to­cols for rocket parts were not be­ing fol­lowed and that test re­sults were be­ing fal­si­fied.

But on Wed­nes­day, a jury found that Blas­dell’s re­port­ing of his “rea­son­ably based sus­pi­cion” of a vi­o­la­tion of law was not a “sub­stan­tial mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor” in his ter­mi­na­tion.

Car­ney Shege­rian, Blas­dell’s at­tor­ney, called the ver­dict “dis­ap­point­ing.”

“It’s just un­for­tu­nate be­cause there’s just no other rea­son to fire Mr. Blas­dell,” he said.

Blas­dell worked at SpaceX for al­most four years and tested com­po­nents of the com­pany’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space­craft as an avion­ics test tech­ni­cian.

In a com­plaint filed in 2016 in Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court, he said man­agers pres­sured test tech­ni­cians to “de­vi­ate from writ­ten test pro­ce­dures” and to sign off on test­ing that had not been per­formed as re­quired.

Blas­dell said he brought up these con­cerns separately to both SpaceX Pres­i­dent Gwynne Shotwell and Musk, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, and that both said they would look into the mat­ter but never did, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

Blas­dell al­leged in the com­plaint that man­age­ment “min­i­mized” his com­plaints partly be­cause they did not want to slow pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“This is not test­ing whether or not an app on a phone is work­ing cor­rectly,” Shege­rian said in clos­ing ar­gu­ments. “It’s test­ing crit­i­cal parts.”

Shege­rian said Blas­dell be­came con­cerned about the test­ing pro­ce­dures once SpaceX started get­ting more con­tracts, es­pe­cially with cus­tomers such as NASA.

SpaceX has a con­tract with NASA to de­liver sup­plies to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion as well as a $2.6-bil­lion con­tract with the space agency to de­velop a Dragon cap­sule to ferry as­tro­nauts to the space sta­tion.

Dur­ing clos­ing ar­gu­ments Tuesday, de­fense at­tor­ney Lynne Hermle said that af­ter a promis­ing start at the com­pany and pos­i­tive per­for­mance re­views, Blas­dell be­came in­creas­ingly un­man­age­able and dis­rup­tive and em­barked on a self-ap­pointed mis­sion to mon­i­tor his man­agers and co-work­ers.

She re­ferred to a psy­cho­log­i­cal test per­formed by one of Blas­dell’s ex­perts, say­ing the re­sults in­di­cated that he “may have per­cep­tions or thoughts con­trary to what may be hap­pen­ing around” him. She also said that Blas­dell was un­pro­duc­tive and that co-work­ers re­ported that his be­hav­ior would change “from highly ag­i­tated to calm in a few min­utes.”

Hermle also said a num­ber of cur­rent and for­mer SpaceX em­ploy­ees tes­ti­fied dur­ing the 21⁄2-week-long trial that they did not ob­serve fal­si­fi­ca­tion of test records.

“It was Mr. Blas­dell’s con­duct and per­for­mance that caused his ter­mi­na­tion,” Hermle said.

In May, Judge Wil­liam F. Fa­hey nar­rowed the scope of the case, say­ing the jury would not be eval­u­at­ing the sci­en­tific de­ci­sions of the com­pany’s engi­neers or the busi­ness judg­ment of its man­agers.

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