Space Exploration Technologies Corp. persuaded a jury to reject a former technician’s claim he was fired for telling supervisors he thought test protocols weren’t followed and results were falsified.
Jurors in Los Angeles state court on Wednesday agreed with the rocket builder that Jason Blasdell was terminated in 2014 because of his poor job performance and not in retaliation for his taking his concern about improper testing procedures as high as Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. He was seeking as much as $6 million in damages.
Blasdell sued Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX two years after he was fired. He had worked at the private company for more than three years, testing avionic components of Falcon 9 launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft, according to his complaint.
He claimed technicians were pressured by their managers not to follow written procedures for testing rocket parts and to report the parts had passed the tests even if the protocols hadn’t been followed. Blasdell said he pointed out the deviations from testing protocols to his supervisors, the company’s chief operating officer, and eventually to Musk.
SpaceX countered that Blasdell barraged his supervisors with rude, disrespectful and unprofessional emails about what he thought were inefficient testing and documentation procedures.
He never once complained that any laws were broken at the testing laboratory, which is a prerequisite for his claim that he was wrongfully terminated, according to SpaceX. He was fired because he had become disruptive and his co-workers were concerned about their safety, the company said.
“We are pleased that we were cleared of the allegations that were clearly false,” SpaceX’s lawyer, Lynne Hermle, said after the verdict.
A lawyer for Blasdell, Anthony Nguyen, declined to comment on the verdict, as did jurors.
During the trial, Blasdell testified that he witnessed one of his managers demonstrate a test on a type of coaxial cable differently than it was described in the test procedure.
“I suggested that he was not performing it as the written instructions told him to, but I also told him that in honesty the way he set it up I felt was the best version of the test that I had seen anyone perform, but it still didn’t match the written instruction,” Blasdell said under cross-examination by Hermle.
Hermle said in her closing statement that Blasdell’s main complaint was that the tests weren’t clear to him. Whereas other experienced technicians completed six to seven tests a day, Blasdell only managed one, she said.
“He couldn’t accept that other technicians could complete tests as written,” Hermle told the jurors. “If he couldn’t do it, they wouldn’t be able either and the results would have to be falsified.”
Hermle said it wasn’t until after Blasdell was fired that he claimed tests were falsified, which is a federal crime if rocket parts are involved.
SpaceX said in court filings that its test procedures aren’t static and that they are constantly revised and refined based on feedback from technicians and engineers. Technicians perform shock, thermal and vibration tests on component according to written procedures and they are expected to provide feedback, including proposed changes, to the responsible engineers, the company said.
An attorney for Blasdell, Carney Shegerian, said in his closing statement that his client isn’t the “lunatic” that he was portrayed as by SpaceX. Blasdell won the company’s “Kick Ass” award for showing initiative the year before he got fired, Shegerian said.
The case in Blasdell v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., BC615112, Los Angeles County Superior Court.