In a lawsuit filed on Monday, former Blue Origin program manager, Craig Stoker, accuses the company of wrongful termination in retaliation for his whistleblowing on safety issues. Stoker had raised concerns about a hostile work environment and safety violations caused by the behavior of then-CEO Bob Smith.
A former program manager at Blue Origin has filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination for blowing the whistle on safety issues and a hostile work environment. The lawsuit sheds light on allegations of a culture of sexism and delivery pressures at the company, following the departure of CEO Bob Smith.
Safety Concerns and Hostile Work Environment
According to Stoker’s complaint, he had informed two vice presidents in May 2022 that Smith’s behavior led employees to disregard safety procedures in order to meet unreasonable deadlines. Stoker also alleged that Smith’s explosive temper created a hostile work environment. In a follow-up email, Stoker lodged a formal complaint against Smith and expressed his concerns regarding the negative impact on employee morale, safety, and product quality.
Despite Stoker’s efforts to escalate the matter, a separate investigation into Smith’s behavior was closed, with Smith reportedly receiving coaching. Stoker became aware of a fellow employee nearly asphyxiating while working under an engine nozzle, but his concerns were dismissed by the VP of safety and mission assurance.
Delivery Pressures and Non-disclosure
In August, Stoker raised concerns about the engine team working excessively long shifts (24+ hours) to meet the delivery deadline for the engines powering United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. Stoker also intended to inform United Launch Alliance that engine deliveries might be delayed, as per the contract requirement, but Smith prohibited him from doing so.
Blue Origin HR conducted an internal investigation and concluded that Smith had not violated any company policies or created a hostile work environment. However, Stoker disagreed with this outcome, claiming that no one from the engine program was interviewed, indicating a lack of thorough investigation.
Discrimination Allegations and Termination
Stoker’s lawsuit alleges that HR was reluctant to investigate due to gender bias, expecting him to handle the issues independently. Eventually, Stoker was terminated on October 7, allegedly as a result of his complaints against Smith and the reports that affected production and delivery schedules.
The lawsuit sheds light on a turbulent period at Blue Origin, with CEO Bob Smith stepping down in September after a successful tenure marked by significant growth and high-value contracts, but marred by allegations of sexism among senior executives.