Two separate lawsuits allege ageist hiring practices at Blue Origin

Two separate lawsuits have been filed against Blue Origin alleging discriminatory hiring practices based on age, TechCrunch has learned.

The first suit was filed last summer by a former Blue Origin engineer who participated on company interview panels, and who claims that he was instructed by his supervisor to seek out younger candidates. The second complaint, which was filed in January, is being brought by a 64-year-old prospective employee who repeatedly and unsuccessfully applied for jobs for which interviewers said he was qualified.

Blue Origin did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment.

Cristian Bureriu, a former senior aerospace software engineer at Blue who was hired in 2018, said he was demoted after complaining to HR that his direct supervisor instructed him to seek out younger candidates -- to hire 20- and 30-year-olds exclusively -- as “younger guys are more coachable.”

His complaint further alleges that Blue “forced out or terminated” around 20 employees in Bureriu’s department, virtually all of whom were over the age of 40. They were replaced with younger staff, the complaint says. Blue Origin fired Bureriu in May 2022, a move that the suit argues was the result of ongoing harassment, retaliation and discrimination after Bureriu took a medical leave of absence. Bureriu declined to comment for this story.

In his complaint, David Rowan says that he applied for 14 open positions with Blue Origin over a period of a couple of years, none of which resulted in a job offer. When he was interviewed for the roles, his complaint alleges that interviewers asked leading questions to determine his age.

Rowan learned about Bureriu’s suit last October. Rowan’s allegations “present a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence which supports a finding of intentional age discrimination,” his lawyer wrote in the complaint. The lawyer, Kevin Jent, declined to comment for this story.

Age discrimination lawsuits are enormously challenging to win, Jacquelyn James, co-director of the Center for Aging and Work at Boston College, explained in an interview. “The Supreme Court has made it so that you have to be able to prove that age is almost the only reason that you weren’t hired,” she said.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that deals with discrimination complaints, the number of age discrimination complaints has been on the decline over the past 10 years. In 2011, there were 23,465 age-related charges made to the EEOC; in 2021, just 12,965. James speculated that this decline could be due to the fact that the cases are so hard to win.

In the course of accepting employment with Blue Origin, Bureriu signed an arbitration agreement, which waived his right to have any employment-related claims litigated in a court. Instead, under the terms of that agreement, his complaints are going to an arbitration proceeding.

There is fierce competition for talent amongst space companies, which must compete with large aerospace primes and other tech companies for labor. According to the 2022 Aerospace and Defense Workforce Study, which was conducted by the Aerospace Industries Association and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and surveyed over 30 A&D companies (though not including Blue Origin or other newer entrants to the space industry), respondents reported concerns regarding talent attraction and labor shortages. Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported attending career fairs at universities and offering internships to build out their workforce.