A Los Angeles jury took less than three hours on Wednesday to clear SpaceX in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against Elon Musk’s Hawthorne, California-based aerospace company.
Jason Blasdell, a former avionics technician who lost his job in April 2014 after four years with the company, alleges that he was fired for bringing concerns about inadequate rocket part testing protocols and the falsification of test data to his superiors. Blasdell was seeking $6 million in damages.
The jury’s 9-3 verdict is a sign of just what an uphill battle Blasdell faced in his mission to support his claim that SpaceX had cut corners in the manufacturing tests of Falcon 9 rocket parts, and pressured technicians to fake test data in order to ensure production moved forward at a fast rate. Blasdell’s case relied heavily on his own testimony, and he was not able to provide any hard evidence that SpaceX had illegally falsified data presented to clients — including NASA.
SpaceX’s lawyers countered that Blasdell was not fired for alerting his superiors about rocket part test flaws but rather because his performance had waned, and he was increasingly behaving in a matter that disrupted his co-workers and made them nervous for their safety.
Attorneys for SpaceX went as far as to attempt to have the case dismissed before closing remarks on Tuesday, but to no avail.
“I’m pleased that SpaceX was cleared of these allegations, which in my view were clearly false,” SpaceX lawyer Lynne Hermle told Law360.
Carney Shegerian, who represented Blasdell, told Law360 that he and his client would most likely move to appeal the verdict.
“It’s unfortunate and we are disappointed by it,” Shegerian said. “This guy was the real-deal whistleblower on a very serious issue.”
“Don’t Tell Elon” Excluded
Shegerian said that “too much of our best evidence was excluded and the result was not a fair, just result,” such as Blasdell’s meeting with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. Blasdell claimed that after raising his concerns with Shotwell, the latter informed him, “Don’t tell [CEO] Elon [Musk].” According to Shegerian, the company effectively broke the law by choosing to ignore test problems, and by pushing Blasdell and his fellow technicians to give parts a passing grade when they should not have.
“Every time they checked off ‘yes, pass’ when that part failed, this law was violated,” Shegerian told the jury.
Hermle counters that Blasdell and his attorney never demonstrated that SpaceX was actively engaged in illegal activity. Rather, Blasdell and the company simply ran into a difference of opinion in what the best protocols for testing were — and Blasdell’s dissatisfaction with SpaceX’s methods caused his work to suffer.
It would seem 12 angry men and women decided SpaceX had the better argument this time.