A 62-year-old former SpaceX engineer has claimed that the company discriminated against him on the basis of age when he was working there.
John Johnson was hired in 2018 at age 58 because of his expertise in optics engineering.
Musk requires his employees to be ‘hardcore’ and work extremely long hours at Twitter, SpaceX, and Tesla. In his essay published on the platform Lioness, Johnson stated that he often put in 10-12 hour days, seven days a week at the company’s California offices – and consistently received positive feedback from managers during his performance reviews.
‘As we move into this new era of wealthy industrialists taking the helm of the largest tech firms, I feel compelled to tell my story, as I believe it is essential that their workforces reflect all the demographics of our pluralistic society, not just the male-dominant youth culture that saturated my former workplace,’ Johnson writes.
After resigning in June, Johnson filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission claiming that SpaceX discriminated against him based on age and then retaliated against him.
In early 2019, Johnson injured his back and required physical therapy for weeks, but he came to work regularly. When his back wasn’t getting better, he needed surgery and told his manager that he’d only be out for a few days and provided him with a list of tasks he was working on.
Johnson alleges that SpaceX went behind his back and recruited an engineer to permanently take over his supplier development role and also internally reassigned a buyer to take over his procurement role.
‘These young men in their twenties and thirties descended upon me right before my surgery, scheduling meetings for a download on everything I was doing in those areas,’ Johnson writes.
‘Then they arranged a tour to become acquainted with the suppliers; despite my months of supplier contact as well as being the bridge between internal requirements and external supplier capabilities, I was not even invited to accompany them.’
When Johnson told his manager that he felt liike he was being discriminated due to his age, it was reported to human resources and they stated it was all part of some ‘misunderstandings.’ HR told him to keep an eye on internal job postings.
According to Johnson, a manufacturing engineer who was assigned to ‘shadow’ him said his Starlink manager had said Johnson ‘might retire or die.’
‘I was 61, with six more years to the standard retirement age, even if I was considering retiring—which I was not. I wasn’t sick or overweight, and am generally quite healthy,’ he explains in the essay.
‘I responded that surely my age couldn’t be a legal reason for a job assignment. The engineer, realizing the egregiousness of the situation, reported it to HR just minutes later.’
Months later, that Starlink manager was promoted. Johnson took his matter to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, but he was only given false reassurances. He was told that SpaceX no longer had work for him in his area of expertise.
This is not the first time that employees of SpaceX have spoken of a discriminatory environment.
Three women who interned at SpaceX said they faced sexual harassment and unwanted advances from other interns as well as senior leaders across a range of incidents, a New York Times report details.