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Former SpaceX employee says he was fired for raising concerns about falsified tests, but a jury disagrees

In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, laun
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday.
(Bill Ingalls / Associated Press)

Former SpaceX technician Jason Blasdell contended 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 ruled that Blasdell’s reporting of his “reasonably based suspicion” of a violation of law was not a “substantial motivating factor” in his termination.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX said in a statement that it was “pleased” with the jury’s verdict.

“Nothing is more important to SpaceX than the quality and reliability of its launch vehicles and spacecraft, and that guiding principle is consistently reinforced throughout the company,” SpaceX said.

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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 Central District 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.

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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 — not a small issue.”

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

SpaceX has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station as well as an additional $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 course of the 2 1/2-week-long trial that they did not observe falsification of test records.

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“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.

samantha.masunaga@latimes.com

Twitter: @smasunaga


UPDATES:

5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from SpaceX about the verdict.

This article was originally published at 1:55 p.m.


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