HR ‘failure’ | Employee sues SpaceX for retaliation after accusing her manager of sexual abuse that led to pregnancy

Employee sues SpaceX for retaliation after accusing her manager of sexual abuse that led to pregnancy

Content Warning: This article includes details of sexual abuse.

SpaceX has been accused of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment against a female employee who says she was serially sexually abused by her former manager.

HR and management at the astronautics company, owned by Elon Musk, allegedly retaliated against the employee by paying her less than her male colleagues with the same experience, refusing her promotions, and ignoring complaints of gender-based discrimination.

Michelle Dopak, a production co-ordinator at SpaceX, says her manager forced her into a sexual relationship with him, beginning in 2019, insinuating her job would only be safe if she did so.

The suit says that later in 2019, the manager offered her a promotion in exchange for continuing the sexual relationship – but the pay was $5,000 per year less than a male colleague for doing the same role, having started at SpaceX only a day apart.

Dopak says she raised this issue to HR, who could not provide any reason for the pay disparity, but she was only offered a raise in salary to $77,500.

According to the lawsuit, the manager would make sexual and demeaning comments to Dopak at work, and the abusive relationship led to her becoming pregnant.

Dopak accuses the manager of intimidating her into having an abortion and says in 2020, he offered her $100,000 to pay for the procedure, which she rejected.

The suit states that later in 2020 the married manager told his wife of the affair and pregnancy, who informed management at SpaceX and allegedly harassed Dopak by text until at least the end 2022.

The manager himself also reportedly told several members of SpaceX’s senior management including a Vice President.

Dopak claims SpaceX’s management did not support her in the wake of the abusive relationship.

The suit says that not only did SpaceX take no disciplinary actions, but in fact colluded with the manager, permitting him to transfer $3.7million worth of company stock out of his name to (fraudulently) avoid paying her child care support. The manager left the company during 2022.

SpaceX is accused of disability-based discrimination and direct retaliation against Dopak.

Having taken medical leave as a result of sexual abuse and emotional distress, she says her new manager threatened termination if her medical leave extended beyond the twelve weeks permitted by FMLA and CFRA.

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Dopak claims her manager also retaliated during performance reviews, lowering her score due to her distress and medical leave:

Often times, she was very distracted by personal matters that it affected her performance and ability to work; she should more clearly communicate when the matters are overly distressing and opt to take the time off instead.”

This decision, according to the suit, has since limited Dopak’s salary increases and her long-term stock incentive.

Dopak says she was increasingly pressured into returning to work despite not being cleared by her doctor.

Since returning to work, she argues successive managers have continuously subjected her to excessive workloads that exceed medically advised restrictions on her working hours, despite consistent reminders from HR.

Dopak also accuses SpaceX management of unfairly distributing work between male and female colleagues. She is suing based on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and violation of California law for an unspecified amount of damages.

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SpaceX has been subject to numerous lawsuits and claims of discrimination against workers including a class-action lawsuit that claims minority workers and women are underpaid. Employees have also made civil rights complaints in California against SpaceX for firing employees who reported concerns about sexual harassment.

In 2021, a female engineer at SpaceX shared an open letter accusing the company of being ‘rife with sexism,’ and that its HR department failed to adequately address alleged incidents of sexual assault and harassment, which was echoed by three further employees who spoke out following the letter.

“SpaceX as an organization values the mission over employee wellness to the extent that I never saw meaningful action taken against individuals who committed acts of sexual harassment,” said one worker at the time.

SpaceX isn’t the only company owned by Musk to face claims of discrimination. A California state judge has tentatively ruled that nearly 6,000 African-American factory workers can proceed with a group lawsuit against Tesla for alleged failure to address widespread race discrimination and harassment at its Fremont plant.

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