SpaceX employee sues company for alleged sexual discrimination, retaliation

a black and white spacex rocket launches into a blue sky, with the ocean in the background
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 52 Starlink satellites from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base on March 17, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

A SpaceX employee is suing the company for sexual discrimination and retaliation, among other alleged violations.

Michelle Dopak, a production coordinator at SpaceX headquarters in Southern California, claims that she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts, denied promotions that she deserved and subjected to workplace harassment, including male colleagues saying that she only got her job because of her looks.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in California Superior Court on Tuesday (March 5), Dopak and two female colleagues took their concerns to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in August 2018. 

The trio "felt compelled and were forced to bring their resumes and a list of accomplishments and projects to Shotwell to prove their worth and disprove the rumors being spread about them, 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 suit states. "However, despite their complaints, no actions were taken by Shotwell or SpaceX."

Related: US Department of Justice sues SpaceX for hiring discrimination

After a management reorganization in January 2019, Dopak began reporting to a different supervisor. According to the lawsuit, this supervisor was a married man who coerced her into a sexual relationship that resulted in a pregnancy. 

Dopak claims that the supervisor offered her $100,000 to get an abortion, which she did not take. He then attempted to evade child-support payments, with the help, she says, of company higher-ups, who wanted to silence her.

SpaceX management "colluded with [the supervisor] to allow him to transfer his 48,289 shares of Common Stock (valued at $77/share; totaling $3,718,253) out of his name so he could fraudulently avoid paying Plaintiff any child support," claims Dopak's 40-page suit, which you can read in its entirety here, thanks to The Verge.

That supervisor left the company in June 2022, according to the lawsuit. Dopak took a medical leave of absence that September due to the harassment, coercive affair and resulting emotional distress. After she returned to work, she claims, her new supervisor demanded that she work long and unreasonable hours. 

"SpaceX and its aforementioned managers are blatantly setting Plaintiff up to fail and deliberately violating her medical accommodation work requirements in order to force Plaintiff to quit and to specifically retaliate against her not only for her medical leave of absence, but her sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints," claims the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages. reached out to SpaceX for comment but has not yet heard back from the company.

Dopak's suit is one of several that allege wrongdoing by SpaceX. Last August, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the company, saying that it has discriminated against job applicants who are refugees or asylum recipients.

In October 2023, a former SpaceX engineer filed a proposed class-action suit, claiming the company discriminates against women and minorities. And this past January, the wife of a SpaceX worker whose skull was fractured during a 2022 engine test sued the company for negligence.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Unclear Engineer
    I am not understanding why considers this "space news". These are allegations, not findings, and are not that unusual in large companies, even large government organizations.

    That said, there are some things that don't seem to be consistent within this story. It seems odd that a woman who is attractive enough to be accused of getting her job because of her good looks is claiming that she is being passed-over for promotions because she is a woman. It also seems to be odd that a woman who was "coerced" into a sexual relationship with a "married supervisor" would refuse to have an abortion, especially when it came with an offer of $100,000. These days, the anti-discrimination laws and anti-harassment laws are too often being weaponized by crafty people who use them to get ahead instead of doing so by producing superior results. And, that undermines their effectiveness when needed to deal with real discrimination and harassment.

    Hard to tell what is really going on in this case. So, why is highlighting it at this stage of the story? And why include a litany of other lawsuits filed against SpaceX at the end of this story? For objectivity, shouldn't be providing a similar list of all the allegations of workplace discrimination and harassment files against Boeing, Aerojet, NASA, etc? Having worked in several environments, I have seen bogus accusations as well as legitimate ones in multiple places.
  • Cdr. Shepard
    Indeed. Would rather this case not be settled by the court of public opinion, as they so often have been in recent years. Why resorts to this kind of sensationalism still, in 2024, is a bit disheartening.

    I will say, the overtly political headlines on have been fewer and further between since peaking around 2021. Mike Wall usually does a great job reporting on SpaceX and generally appears to be a fan of the company. Perhaps he's trying to avoid showing too positive a bias?

    Who knows.
  • Actionjksn
    So she had a consensual affair with a married supervisor and it's totally not in any way her fault, it's exclusively his fault, because he's a man.

    Now that the supervisor is not her boyfriend, she is being forced to work hard like everyone else and she doesn't like it. Amazing! I hope she doesn't get a dime out of SpaceX and the only money she gets is normal child support payments from her ex-boyfriend.
  • Unclear Engineer
    Actionjksn, now you are jumping to conclusions, too.

    I do tend to wonder about the things you suggest. And note that the complaintent went all the way to the FEMALE President of SpaceX but was not successful in getting the responses she is demanding, So, I am not taking her position as described in this article at face value, either.

    But, all we do by jumping to conclusions with the meager info provided is to reveal our own biases. That is why I criticized the story being published here. Its publication seems to indicate some bias against SpaceX, perhaps against Musk, although he seems to not be personally involved in this at all.