Blue Origin fired a senior executive, citing inappropriate behavior. Current and former employees say this is part of the company’s toxic culture.
A longtime senior Blue Origin executive from Jeff Bezos was fired in 2019 after an outside law firm was hired by the company to investigate employee allegations of his inappropriate behavior in the workplace , according to company officials and several people familiar with the matter.
The revelation comes as space company Bezos faces new allegations that it fosters an unsafe work environment, where sexist conduct is perpetrated or ignored by senior management.
In an essay published Thursday, Alexandra Abrams, the former head of employee communications at Blue Origin, wrote that the “culture of the space flight company rests on a foundation that ignores the fate of our planet, turns a blind eye to sexism, does not listen enough to safety concerns and silences those seeking to right wrongs. The essay was posted on the whistleblower site Lioness, which posts stories of workplace misconduct and puts them in the media. ”Abrams’ post cited 20 anonymous current and former employees.
Abrams writes that she represents a group of 21 past and current staff, employed across the company, who participated in writing the post on condition of anonymity. In an interview with the Washington Post, one of the former staff who participated in the blog post confirmed the allegations. The Post spoke to two other former employees, who were not part of the group that wrote the blog, who said that Blue Origin management created a toxic work environment and that they were grateful that the blog be made public. They, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“I have personally experienced quite a bit of trauma at Blue Origin,” Abrams said in an interview with The Post. “I was not the first and I was not the last.”
The Post was unable to immediately confirm all the identities of the 20 anonymous employees or corroborate the allegations in the letter.
In a statement, Blue Origin said the company “has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous opportunities for employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline, and will promptly investigate any new misconduct complaints. “
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, owns The Washington Post.
Three people with knowledge of the incident said Blue Origin hired law firm Perkins Coie to investigate Walt McCleery, vice president of recruiting, and found his behavior to be inappropriate. Company officials, who declined to be named, confirmed in an interview Thursday that he hired the law firm and fired McCleery, who had worked at the company since 2004.
One person who was not a signatory to the blog post said in an interview that he was once in a meeting with McCleery and executives of an outside company when McCleery turned to the executives and said: “I apologize for [her] be emotional. It must be her time of the month.
The comment “was hard on me,” she said. “It was embarrassing and embarrassing.” She said she had to quit her job there “because I couldn’t take it anymore”.
In a short interview, McCleery said he was unaware of the blog post or the allegations, which he denied. “This is not true as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I have no further comments.” When asked how he left Blue Origin, he replied, “It doesn’t matter how it ended. It’s private. This is my information.
The blog post does not cite any names, but describes several employees who allegedly mistreated their female colleagues. Abrams and the others wrote that a former executive “often treated women in a condescending and demeaning manner, calling them ‘little girl’, ‘baby doll’ or ‘sweetheart’ and inquiring about their love life.”
The behavior was so well known, according to the publication, “that some women in the company warned new hires to stay away from him, while he was in charge of recruiting employees. It dawned on many of us that he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos – he had to physically grope a subordinate for him to finally be released. Representatives for Blue Origin declined to comment on the matter.
Another former employee, who helped write the blog post, told The Post that working at Blue Origin was “a daunting and chaotic experience. This behavior has been modeled and has not been held responsible. Even the junior members started to reflect this. It’s such a mess.
The allegations come at a pivotal time for Blue Origin, as the company tries to participate in the increasingly crowded race to privatize space travel. Its ambitions have grown since its creation by Bezos in 2000, as a consortium of scientists and engineers dedicated to the disruption of spaceflight. Blue Origin has made slow progress towards this goal. The company marked its first manned space flight this summer, more than 20 years after its founding, a milestone that has lagged behind Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
The group behind the blog post said several senior executives at Blue Origin acted inappropriately with women and that the behavior was known throughout the company.
“We had this growing community” of people who left Blue Origin, Abrams said. “We joked that we would create ‘I survived the Blue Origin patches’.”
In an interview with CBS that aired Thursday morning, Abrams said she was fired from Blue Origin in 2019, after clashing with superiors over the company’s culture. While she was fired, she said her manager said she was fired because Blue Origin chief executive Bob Smith could no longer trust her.
In a statement Thursday to The Post, Blue Origin said, “Ms. Abrams was fired for cause two years ago after repeated warnings over issues involving federal export control regulations. “
“I have never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues with federal export control regulations,” Abrams wrote in a statement to The Post.
After being ousted from the company, Abrams said she met several current and former staff, often at her home, and together they planned to voice their grievances against the company, culminating in the ‘trial. Members of the group come from all of the company’s major departments, Abrams said, and more than half held or have technical roles.
The document also alleges that the high-pressure competition to advance space flight technology and get ahead of competing equipment has undermined the company’s security concerns. “At Blue Origin, a common question at high level meetings was, ‘When will Elon or Branson fly? The group wrote.
“Competing with other billionaires – and ‘making progress for Jeff’ – seemed to take precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the schedule,” the group wrote. Blue Origin declined to comment on the matter.
Many current and former employees have said they will not fly in a vehicle made by Blue Origin. “And it’s no wonder – we’ve all seen how often teams are stretched beyond reasonable limits,” they said.
Bezos was one of four crew members on the company’s first human flight in July.
Blue Origin isn’t the first company founded by Bezos to be accused of fostering a toxic culture. After more than 550 Amazon employees signed a petition describing an “underlying culture of systemic discrimination, harassment, intimidation and prejudice against women and under-represented groups,” the company opened an investigation on the culture of its cloud computing unit. On Tuesday, Amazon settled a long-standing dispute with two former technicians it sacked after criticizing the company for its climate policies and warehouse safety record.
The allegations come as Blue Origin takes legal action against the federal government to receive a tranche of NASA’s lucrative lunar lander contract, in an attempt to force the agency to fund a second spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the lunar surface.
The lawsuit, filed last month, came after Blue Origin protested NASA’s decision to award a $ 2.9 billion contract to develop the human-only landing system to Musk’s SpaceX.