SpaceX Hit With Age Discrimination Accusation by 62-Year-Old Former Engineer

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on December 8, 2022

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has received an age discrimination accusation. While the company does not make the news as often as some of Musk’s other companies, it is a major player that just announced the Starshield satellite network for national security use. However, it has also received an age discrimination accusation by 62-year-old former engineer John Johnson.

Johnson joined SpaceX in 2018, hired as an optics engineer. During his time at the company, he worked 10-12 hours per day at the California office, seven days a week. Despite that, he was pushed to quit his job and has now filed a complaint with the state of Washington.

  • Early in his career at SpaceX, he received good performance reviews and was “quite hardcore.”
  • The alleged discrimination ultimately led Johnson to resign from the company in July of this year.

Younger, less experienced engineers were brought in. It is not unusual to have new employees brought in, but Johnson found himself constantly being passed up for opportunities that were instead given to younger and less experienced workers. Moreover, it all occurred after back surgery in 2019.

  • Johnson underwent physical therapy without missing a day after a back injury, but he needed to take a few days off for surgery.
  • After the surgery, he was slowly stripped of his responsibilities, which he said went to “younger, less qualified engineers” that he was ”responsible to train.”

In an affidavit, Johnson wrote, “Respondent managers continued to marginalize me, minimizing my contributions, limiting my visibility to upper management, and thereby curtailing my opportunities for professional recognition and advancement.”

Human resources and COO Gwynne Shotwell did not help. Johnson went to Shotwell with the fact that he felt perceptions of his age prevented him from succeeding and advancing at SpaceX. While Shotwell apologized for his experience and promised a fix, the positive change never came.

Instead, Johnson received notification from HR in February that stated his work was no longer needed because “business conditions had changed.” According to him, it only left him with a choice between leaving or taking on responsibilities outside his area of expertise.

Doubt and humiliation followed, with the director and another engineer repeatedly questioning his abilities. Then, in June 2022, the alternative work Johnson was promised did not appear. He was also invited to a meeting where he experienced public humiliation. “I was subjected to the public humiliation of being questioned about my very presence,” wrote Johson, saying his “ability to ‘deliver’” was also called into question.

SpaceX’s work culture has been called into question before. Weeks ago, former SpaceX employees filed complaints about unfair labor practices. The complaints alleged they were fired for criticizing Elon Musk. There have also been allegations of sexual harassment leveled against the company, including the harassment experienced by former engineer Ashley Kosak.

Musk’s companies are often the target of disputes and allegations. That includes the Twitter lawsuits and complaints since his takeover. In part, it is due to his demands requiring employees to go into the office and work long hours at an intense pace, which Musk has called “hardcore.”

Tesla, another Musk company, has found itself on the wrong end of several allegations, including racial discrimination allegations and a lawsuit filed by a shareholder in June over failure to address the hostile and discriminatory work environment.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is a News Desk Editor at Grit Daily. He covers breaking news on startups, affiliate, viral, and marketing news.

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