Tesla Sued for Alleged Racial Discrimination and Harassment

Leo Hynett

The factory at the centre of this latest lawsuit is becoming well known for all the wrong reasons. Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Fremont, California was also the origin of a sexual harassment lawsuit in December of last year in which current and former female employees came forward to accuse Tesla of ‘fostering a culture of rampant sexual harassment.’

Having received hundreds of complaints from workers about racial discrimination and harassment at Tesla’s Fremont factory, the ​​California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has now filed a lawsuit against the company.

The agency’s director, Kevin Kish, stated that they had found evidence that the factory is a ‘segregated workplace where black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion creating a hostile work environment.’ Black workers reported being ‘assigned to more physically demanding roles, being subjected to more severe discipline and being passed over for professional opportunities.’

Tesla’s response

Before the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, Tesla posted a blog post defending its position wherein it described the lawsuit as ‘misguided’ and said it ‘strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment’. The blog post makes the company’s position clear, and their frustration at the situation shines through.

According to the blog post, the lawsuit ‘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.’ Citing the good that the company has done for California, the post states that the interests of workers and fundamental fairness must come before a ‘narrative spun [to] generate publicity’:

‘At a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California, the [Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)] has decided to sue Tesla instead of constructively working with us. This is both unfair and counterproductive, especially because the allegations focus on events from years ago.’

Despite Tesla’s insistence that the claims are unfounded, enough evidence has been gathered to launch this lawsuit and there have been enough historical cases against the company – and this specific factory – to make the claims seem plausible.

Previous legal action

When one female member of staff first took her experience of sexual harassment to the HR department, she was simply moved to another area of the factory away from the people who were harassing her. When she escalated the claim, six other women joined her in taking court action over sexual harassment on the factory floor.

This sexual harassment lawsuit was not the only time Tesla has appeared in court for discrimination or harassment. Back in 2017, plant worker Marcus Vaughn – who also worked at the Fremont site – filed a class-action lawsuit after Tesla allegedly failed to investigate his complaints about repeatedly being called the n-word by managers.

Another ex-Tesla worker, Owen Diaz, recently won $137million in damages for his treatment at the company between 2015 and 2016. Of that total sum, the jury awarded him $6.9 million for emotional distress, with the remaining $130 million forming punitive damages against Tesla. Diaz had experienced discrimination he described as ‘straight from the Jim Crow era.’ The lawsuit was a gruelling experience that took four years to reach a verdict, and Tesla has since appealed the ruling.

The above cases all centre around the same factory. The DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions (by Tesla’s own count) to investigate the company for discrimination or harassment over the past 5 years, but each investigation was closed having found no misconduct on Tesla’s part. The firm suggested ‘it therefore strains credibility’ that misconduct has been found despite this series of investigations coming up empty.