SpaceX lawsuit claims repeated instances of gender discrimination and basic safeguarding failures

Warning: The following article covers matters of a sensitive nature.

A SpaceX employee has filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing it of siding with a supervisor who pressured her into having sexual relations with him. The plaintiff said that she and other female employees also had to endure “humiliating comments” questioning their credentials, that she was passed up for promotions in favor of male candidates and that she experienced retaliation when she complained about being paid less than her male counterparts.

The plaintiff, Michelle Dopak, has been working at the aerospace corporation’s headquarters in California since 2017. According to her complaint, she experienced discrimination early on in her employment when she was passed up for job opportunities in favor of external male candidates. Her male colleagues allegedly spread rumors about their female coworkers, as well, claiming that they only got their jobs because of their looks. Dopak and two of her female colleagues met with Gwynne Shotwell to complain about both issues — “an action that no male colleague or employee at SpaceX would ever feel the need to do to justify their hiring and stop such discriminatory actions,” the lawsuit reads. The SpaceX president, however, apparently didn’t take any action.

After a reorganization in 2019, the plaintiff was placed under the supervision of a male boss who allegedly pressured her into having a sexual relationship that lasted years. When she got pregnant as a result, she said her married supervisor offered her $100,000 to have an abortion, which she had refused. She also accused SpaceX of colluding with her boss to transfer 48,289 shares worth $3,718,253 out of his name so that he could get out of paying child support.

Her complaints didn’t end there. After getting promoted to a position she had been chasing for years, she found out that a male colleague who was hired at the same time was being paid $5,000 more. The company officials she talked to about the pay disparity couldn’t justify it and allegedly offered her only $2,500 more if she also took a reduction in stock benefits. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff said the offer was “a message that if you complain at SpaceX, we will just retaliate against you and find other ways to punish you.”

The lawsuit accuses SpaceX of forcing female employees who have claims of sexual harassment and discrimination into bringing their claims to arbitration so that they could be kept secret from the public. “SpaceX has also attempted to coerce and force [the plaintiff] into only bringing her claims in arbitration even though such claims are barred from being forced to arbitration,” the complaint continues.

The plaintiff is asking for general, compensatory and consequential damages, including lost wages, earnings and other employee benefits. She’s also asking the court to prohibit SpaceX from continuing any “unfair and unlawful business practices.” SpaceX is currently facing another proposed class action lawsuit that claims it pays women and minorities tens of thousands less than what it pays white male employees. In January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against SpaceX, as well, accusing it for illegally firing a group of engineers who criticized Elon Musk for making crude jokes on X about the sexual misconduct accusations against him.

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