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SpaceX worker alleges severe sex bias, retaliation in US lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California.

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - Rocket maker SpaceX is being accused in a new lawsuit of refusing to promote a female production worker, paying her less than male colleagues and retaliating against her for reporting sexual harassment by her manager.

Michelle Dopak, a production coordinator at SpaceX headquarters in California, said in the lawsuit filed in state court on Tuesday that company officials including president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell have ignored complaints by her and other employees of widespread bias against women.

Dopak also said her married supervisor pressured her into having a sexual relationship that resulted in a pregnancy. He offered her $100,000 to have an abortion, which she declined, and then SpaceX allowed him to transfer $3.7 million in stock options out of his name to avoid paying child support to the plaintiff, Dopak claims.

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The lawsuit claims SpaceX is attempting to force Dopak to quit by overloading her with work, despite accommodations she is entitled to in order to address work-related stress.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Dopak is accusing SpaceX of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and paying her less than men with comparable jobs in violation of California law. She is seeking unspecified damages.

The lawsuit comes as SpaceX is already fighting a proposed class action filed in October claiming it pays and promotes women and minorities less than white men. Meanwhile, a California civil rights agency is investigating complaints by a group of former engineers claiming that the company tolerates rampant discrimination and harassment against female employees.

SpaceX is also facing a separate case before a U.S. labor board claiming those same engineers were unlawfully fired for circulating a letter accusing founder and CEO Elon Musk of sexism.

The company has denied wrongdoing, and has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the case by claiming that the labor board's structure and in-house enforcement proceedings violate the U.S. Constitution.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Nick Zieminski)