A 62-year-old former SpaceX engineer says that Elon Musk’s company discriminated against him on the basis of age during his time there.
John Johnson was hired in 2018 at age 58 because of his expertise in a sector called optics engineering that happens to be crucial to a range of applications related to the aerospace company’s work.
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 makes a point of saying 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.
A 62-year-old former SpaceX engineer says that Elon Musk’s company discriminated against him on the basis of age during his time there
‘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,’ John Johnson writes
After resigning in June, Johnson filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission alleging that SpaceX discriminated against him based on age and then retaliated against him.
DailyMail.com reached out to SpaceX’s press office for comment but did not hear back before publication.
In early 2019, Johnson injured his back and was in physical therapy for weeks, but he didn’t miss any work. 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.
John Johnson (above) was hired by SpaceX in 2018 at age 58; he alleges age discrimination
‘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.’
Johnson claims that all the employees who were brought on to take over his job duties were decades younger and had steep learning curves. He also says that it wasn’t his manager that had brought them in – but it seemed to be from managers at Starlink, which was being run by Mark Juncosa, who has been called one of the mogul’s ‘young loyalists.’
When Johnson told his manager that he felt ageism was an issue, it was reported to human resources and they assured him that everything came from ‘misunderstandings.’ HR told him to monitor internal job postings.
In early 2021, Johnson’s new manager told him he’d been hired into a non-management track.
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.
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
‘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 even reached out to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. After being assured they’d investigate his claims, he never heard back and was later told that business conditions had changed and SpaceX no longer had work for him in his area of expertise.
At that time, Johnson says there quite a number of job openings, including in the Starlink optics area.
After reading the writing on the wall, Johnson submitted his resignation.
‘Musk is now closer in age to Social Security eligibility than to the sea of fresh-faced recent graduates his company employs,’ Johnson writes. ‘At what age will he be when this predominantly young staff become concerned that he might “retire or die”?’
This is not the first time that employees of SpaceX have alleged 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.
In November 2021, a former SpaceX employee filed a lawsuit against the firm alleging race discrimination, national origin discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract.