The plaintiff, Marcus Vaughan, describes being regularly addressed as “Nigger,” or “Nigga,” at Tesla’s production facility in Fremont and claims that management failed to prevent the harassment even after he brought it to management’s attention. The experience was widely shared among other African-American employees at the factory, according to the complaint.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is intended to protect the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination on account of race, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, medical condition, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status, among other status factors. Whether Tesla operates in compliance with the law is subject to considerable dispute.
In May of this year, an African-American man at the same Fremont facility filed a California state labor lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and harassment, retaliation, threats of violence and assault and battery. In October, workers sued over similar conduct , but also alleging wrongful termination, constructive discharge and whistleblower retaliation in violation of the California labor code.
Also in October, former employee Jorge Ferro, brought a lawsuit alleging that he was discriminated against and threatened with violence because he is gay. In February, a female engineer sued Tesla claiming that the company tolerated pervasive sexual harassment, paid her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoted less qualified men over her and retaliated against her for raising concerns. In 2016, a former employee sued Tesla for age discrimination.
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Tesla denies these allegations. In a blog post on its website, the company claims that the class action lawsuit complaint is inaccurate in a number of ways. It also seeks to clarify an earlier email, which some interpreted as telling Vaughan to “suck it up.” The email advised that, “In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology. If you are part of a less represented group, you don’t get a free pass on being a jerk yourself.”
Whether Tesla’s managerial efforts to resolve claims of racial discrimination were sufficient under California law will likely become a question for the jury.