LIke his fellow tech CEOs, electric car manufacturer and darling of the commercial space community Elon Musk has cultivated a reputation as a bit of a taskmaster. He is said to work 100 hours a week and is never satisfied. A former employee described him as a "master diamond maker" in reference to the enormous pressure he places on his workers. But sometimes that top-down demand he places on his employees at SpaceX and Tesla can blow up in his face.
Earlier this week, a former technician became the latest in a series of disgruntled ex-employees to file a class action lawsuit against SpaceX claiming it routinely violated California labor laws in its quest to become a pioneer in private space exploration. Stan Saporito, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as a structures and integration technician at SpaceX, is seeking up to $5 million in damages from the company for allegedly forcing him and other employees to "shave" time off their timesheets, as well as denying them overtime pay and legally required meal breaks. The lawsuit was first reported by Motherboard.
SpaceX denies the claims and will refute them in court
According to the lawsuit, Saporito was employed at SpaceX from June 2013 to February 2015. During that time, he claims the company required its employees to "work off the clock without paying them for all the time they were under SpaceX's control performing post-shift duties, specifically by failing to provide enough labor hours to accomplish all the job tasks that SpaceX expected" Saporito and his fellow plaintiffs to complete.
Saporito's attorney Nicholas De Blouw declined to comment on the specifics of the case, preferring to let the complaint speak for itself. He did say, though, that cases like these can take years to litigate. De Blouw also said his firm has overseen many complaints against tech firms over alleged labor law violations. "This is the way they shave labor costs," he said.
John Taylor, communications director for SpaceX, said in an email to The Verge, "SpaceX denies the claims made in this complaint and will refute them in court."
California labor law requires employers to provide 30-minute meal breaks for employees who work more than five hours and a second meal break if the employee works more than 10 hours. It also requires employers to allow 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked.
Allegations against SpaceX for violating labor laws are becoming a common occurrence. Over a year ago, two lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles County by former employees claiming the rocket maker denied them breaks and forced them to work off the clock. In April 2015, an ex-clerical worker named Sebring Whitaker filed a class action suit that made similar accusations, including denial of severance when he and others were laid off. A few months later, a California judge denied Musk's attempt to dismiss a pair of class action lawsuits claiming SpaceX laid off hundreds of workers without state-mandated warning.
Lawyers for Saporito have requested a jury trial for their case. SpaceX has 30 days to file a response before a judge can decide whether to hear it.