LOS ANGELES – Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been sued by a 48-year-old former employee who alleges he was wrongfully terminated earlier this year because of his age and for complaining about workplace discrimination.
Plaintiff Cristian Bureriu’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges age and disability discrimination, failure to accommodate disability, failure to engage in the interactive process, failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment and retaliation.
Bureriu seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. A Blue Origin representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Wednesday.
Blue Origin’s headquarters are in Kent, Washington, and it has numerous offices nationwide, including one in Woodland Hills.
Bureriu, born in Germany, was hired in January 2018 as a senior aerospace software engineer and held the title of team lead until he was demoted last December by his supervisor, Supreet Walia, according to the suit. Before the demotion, Bureriu duties included taking part in the company’s interview panel, participating in inter-departmental meetings and assigning tasks to subordinates, the suit stales.
In July 2021, Walia told Bureriu to consider youthful job candidates because “younger guys are more coachable,” the suit states.
“Plaintiff was discouraged by Mr. Walia to hire anyone (who) was not in their 20s or 30s,” the suit alleges.
Bureriu believes that while working at Blue Origin, management “forced out or terminated” about 20 employees who worked in the plaintiff’s department — “virtually everyone” over age 40 — and their replacements were in their 20s and 30s, the suit states.
When Bureriu spoke to someone in human resources about Walia’s alleged preference for younger workers, the plaintiff was taken off the interview panel he had been on since being hired, the suit states.
Bureriu later found out that Walia spoke poorly of him to other workers and managers, according to the suit. By last December, Bureriu’s software engineering duties were almost entirely diminished and his duties became primarily clerical in nature, the suit states.
Bureriu and most of his team, as well as Walia, started working remotely in March 2020 because of the pandemic, the suit states. The plaintiff worked primarily from his California home as of July 2021, but he also leased an apartment in Washington so he could attend meetings there, the suit states.
In late 2021, Bureriu told management he was thinking of not renewing his Washington apartment lease because he could no longer afford two residences, according to the suit.
Earlier this year, the alleged harassment, retaliation and discrimination by management and Walia grew progressively worse and he received a low score on his 2021 annual performance review, which was “shocking” to the plaintiff because he had always received high marks, the suit states.
Bureriu went on a leave of absence in March because of a health problem that was worsened by his experiences at work, the suit states. He returned to work on May 2 and was terminated the next day after he told management he was considering ending the lease on his Washington apartment by the end of the month because of the cost of maintaining two residences, the suit states.
Bureriu believes the real reason he lost his job was because he complained about alleged harassment, retaliation and discrimination in the workplace and due to his taking a medical leave of absence.
Along with a loss of earnings, Bureriu continues to suffer embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress, the suit states.