Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A judge dismissed a defamation allegation brought by a former employee of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. against the company, but ruled that the plaintiff could take his wrongful termination and retaliation claims to trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey issued his rulings Wednesday in the lawsuit brought in April 2016 by Jason Blasdell. The judge heard arguments April 24 on SpaceX’s motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit, then took the case under submission.

During the April hearing, Fahey questioned how Blasdell, who said he was called “disruptive” by management, could claim that his reputation was besmirched.

The judge said the trial will focus on whether Blasdell had a reasonable belief that SpaceX was falsifying rocket-test documents and whether he was fired for false reasons. The trial is scheduled May 22.

In his lawsuit, Blasdell says he received consistently positive reviews from management while working  at the rocket and spacecraft manufacturer’s Hawthorne headquarters as an avionics test technician from 2010 until his 2014 firing. He says he began seeing safety issues related to the testing procedures of rocket parts, leading him to question the quality of the testing and the risks it posed for not just the rockets potentially exploding, but for the potential loss of human life, as well.

Blasdell claims he complained to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, company President Gwynne Shotwell and to the firm’s human resources department, alleging there were potentially dangerous deviations from protocol that his managers were pressuring test technicians to make.

“Musk accompanied Blasdell to his desk to watch a demonstration of the problems,” Blasdell’s lawyers state in their court papers. “He also asked Blasdell to summarize his concerns and follow up with him.”

Shotwell told Blasdell during an October 2013 meeting that she would investigate his concerns and hire an outside consultant to investigate, according to the plaintiff’s court papers.

Blasdell says he followed up in early 2014 when he inquired of Shotwell by email whether the consultant had been hired.

“Ms. Shotwell never responded to plaintiff’s inquiry, but instead wrote a separate email to plaintiff criticizing the manner in which plaintiff communicated with management,” according to Blasdell’s court papers, which say he was fired in April 2014 for being “disruptive.”

In their court papers, SpaceX attorneys called Blasdell’s lawsuit “baseless.” SpaceX attorney Lynne Hermle said there was no evidence Blasdell was reporting any violation of any laws.

But attorney Anthony Nguyen, on behalf of Blasdell, said the plaintiff had no obligation to use the typical legal “buzz words” when coming forth about his allegations.’

— City News Service

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