California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced a lawsuit this week aimed at Tesla’s Fremont car factory. The claims about the treatment of black employees in the lawsuit are pretty dramatic:
Here’s one example of the claims in the lawsuit:
Throughout the day, every day, Black and/or African American workers heard Defendants’ workers, leads, supervisors, and managers make racial slurs and comments about Black workers. Examples of the racist language include the n-word, “porch monkey,” “monkey toes,” “boy,” “hood rats,” and “horse hair.” Defendants’ workers, including production leads and supervisors, made references to Black and/or African Americans in racist comments and racist jokes such as “N[ ] word out of the hood,” “from the ghetto,” “Tesla [was] hiring lazy coons,” and “go back to Africa.”
Because the factory was racially segregated, Defendants’ workers referred to the areas where many Black and/or African Americans worked as the “porch monkey station.” Defendants’ workers with tattoos of the Confederate flag made their racially incendiary tattoos visible to intimidate Black and/or African American workers. Racial slurs were also dispensed in Spanish and included “mayate” and “negrita.” Additionally, Defendants’ workers referred to the Tesla factory as the “slaveship” or “the plantation,” where Defendants’ production leads “crack[ed] the whip.” Many Black and/or African American workers understood these terms to be references to how Defendants treated its Black and/or African American workers. One Black worker heard these racial slurs as often as 50-100 times a day.
Obviously I don’t know if these claims are accurate but what’s being described is certainly repulsive behavior. And because Tesla has no PR department, there really no one to speak for the company except Elon Musk. Speaking of PR, the day before the lawsuit was filed, Tesla posted a statement on its website offering a pre-buttal to some of the allegations.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) intends to file a lawsuit against Tesla alleging systematic racial discrimination and harassment. This follows a three-year investigation during which the DFEH—whose mission is supposedly to protect workers—has never once raised any concern about current workplace practices at Tesla. Rather, the lawsuit appears focused on alleged misconduct by production associates at the Fremont factory that took place between 2015 and 2019…
Over the past five years, the DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions by individuals who believe they were discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. On every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, it did not find misconduct against Tesla. It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla. A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof.
The LA Times reports that individual civil rights lawsuits against Tesla have been on the rise:
The last two years — a period during which Tesla’s stock price has soared — have seen a major uptake in racial and sexual harassment suits against the company. At least 167 have been filed since 2006, according to Plainsite, a court document transparency organization. At least five have been filed in the last six weeks.
One was lodged by a female Black employee who said her female white boss struck her with a hot grinding tool and called her “stupid” and the N-word and insulted her intelligence. The suit says the supervisor was fired but later rehired.
Another was filed by a man who said he wrote directly to Musk to complain about racial harassment and was then told to report to human resources, where he was fired.
One reason the number of suits may be going up is that last October the company was ordered to pay $137 million to a former worker named Owen Diaz who’d worked as an elevator operator at the factory.
In the lawsuit, Diaz alleged that he faced discrimination “straight from the Jim Crow era,” in which he was subjected to racial slurs. He alleged that Tesla employees left drawings of swastikas, racist graffiti and offensive cartoons around the plant, while supervisors neglected to halt the abuse. “Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” according to the lawsuit.
The jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million for emotional distress, but the majority, $130 million, was punitive damages against Tesla.
At the time, Tesla responded to the verdict in a statement on their website which argued the company had been responsive to complaints. Their statement mentions some of the things (use of the n-word, racist graffiti) which are also mentioned in the DFEH lawsuit.
- Mr. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016.
- In addition to Mr. Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor. While they all agreed that the use of the n-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a “friendly” manner and usually by African-American colleagues. They also told the jury about racist graffiti in the bathrooms, which was removed by our janitorial staff;
- There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used toward Mr. Diaz.
- Mr. Diaz made written complaints to his non-Tesla supervisors. Those were well-documented in the nine months he worked at our factory. But he didn’t make any complaints about the n-word until after he was not hired full-time by Tesla – and after he hired an attorney.
- The three times that Mr. Diaz did complain about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies: two contractors were fired and one was suspended (who had drawn a racially offensive cartoon). Mr. Diaz himself testified that he was “very satisfied” with the results of one of the investigations, and he agreed that there was follow-up on each of his complaints.
Anyway, not a good development for Tesla. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the DFEH can make its case in court. The full lawsuit is here if you’re interested.
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