A 62-year old engineer alleges he was sidelined at SpaceX over fears that he might 'retire or die'
- An engineer alleges he was sidelined at SpaceX over fears he might "retire or die."
- John Johnson, 62, made the allegations in an essay published on Wednesday on whistleblower site Lioness.
A 62-year-old engineer alleged he was sidelined at SpaceX over colleagues' fears that he might "retire or die."
John Johnson said he had been the victim of age discrimination at Elon Musk's rocket company in an essay published on Wednesday on the whistleblower website Lioness.
Johnson said he has filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Insider has viewed a copy of the complaint that was provided by Johnson. The commission did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Johnson joined SpaceX in 2018 as a principal engineer in optics engineering when he was 58 and received "consistently solid" performance reviews for what he described as his "quite hardcore" work ethic.
He had back surgery in early 2020 and returned to work after just a few days. However, Johnson said in his complaint that he was then stripped of responsibilities that were given to far younger, less experienced engineers – some of whom he was asked to train without explanation.
In his essay, Johnson wrote that one engineer was asked to shadow him because there were fears he might "retire or die."
Despite reporting those comments to human resources and later contacting Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's chief operating officer, Johnson said "nothing was done to remedy my situation or restore my job duties."
Johnson said HR told him at a meeting earlier this year that he would be helped to find another role at SpaceX, but no assistance was forthcoming and he resigned in June.
SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.
Johnson told Insider in a telephone interview: "SpaceX has this business model of promoting young people, so having someone who's decades older is countercultural. Sometimes I wondered whether they looked at me and thought: 'Wow, this guy is a loser because he hasn't obtained independence and wealth at this ripe old age'."
"I like what I was doing for SpaceX when they let me do my work – all I really wanted was to be able to get re-engaged and go back to work," he added.
In his essay Johnson wrote: "As an older white male, I hadn't confronted the impediments to success that many people face—until I started at SpaceX."
He added: "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 and many of his colleagues moved to Redmond, Washington in January 2021 where SpaceX has a factory and research facility, which is why his complaint was filed with the Washington commission.
An investigator would not be assigned to his case until May next year, Johnson said.
His allegations follow other labor issues at SpaceX and companies controlled by Musk.
In December 2021 a former engineer accused the rocket company of fostering an environment "rife with sexism."
Ashley Kosak, who was a mission integration engineer, published an essay on Lioness in which she alleged she faced sexual harassment while employed by SpaceX, and that supervisors and human resources officials failed to adequately address the alleged incidents.
Last month eight former SpaceX employees filed complaints alleging wrongful termination after they criticized Musk's behavior on social media in an open letter, saying it was "a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us."
Musk fired half the workforce after taking over Twitter in late October, with hundreds more employees deciding to leave rather than sign up for his "hardcore" work culture.
In June two former Tesla employees sued Musk's EV maker, alleging it violated federal laws over "mass layoffs," Reuters reported.
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