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California Slams Tesla with Race Discrimination Lawsuit

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California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has slammed Tesla with a race discrimination lawsuit.

Fremont, CA California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has slammed Tesla with a race discrimination lawsuit. DFEH alleges that black workers at Tesla’s Fremont plant have incurred widespread discrimination and harassment, including racist slurs and graffiti and they are given the most physically demanding work.  

Tesla Defense

Tesla has responded. In its blog post (Feb 9) Tesla says it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints,” and that it “continues to seek to provide a workplace that is safe, respectful, fair, and inclusive.” Not according to Kevin Kish, the DFEH director. ­“After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially 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.”

Tesla goes on, citing its status as a manufacturing employer in the state. “Tesla is also the last remaining automobile manufacturer in California. The Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians,” and that legal action was “unfair and counterproductive”. In the same blog, the company goes on to say it “has always disciplined and terminated employees who engage in misconduct, including those who use racial slurs or harass others in different ways."

DFEH v. Tesla Lawsuit

The 39-page  DFEH lawsuit, filed Feb 9, 2022, alleges discrimination and harassment for over a decade. It contends that black employees were likened to monkeys and slaves. Black workers routinely heard Tesla supervisors and managers using racial slurs and were confronted with racist graffiti in the factory. One Black worker heard racial slurs as often as 50 to 100 times a day.

According to court documents, as early as 2012, Black and/or African American Tesla workers have complained that Tesla production leads, supervisors, and managers constantly use the n-word and other racial slurs to refer to Black workers. They have complained that swastikas, “KKK,” the n-word, and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables, and even factory machinery.

Many African American employees were working “under egregious conditions”. Black workers reported they were assigned to more physically demanding roles, assigned the lowest-level contract roles, paid less, more severely disciplined and more often terminated from employment than other workers. Further, workers were discouraged from complaining as they were warned that complaints would be ignored, or perfunctorily acknowledged and then dismissed. Black and/or African American workers also were warned that complaints led to retaliation –they would be fired.

The Associated Press reported that Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters last year to Austin, Texas from Palo Alto after publicly feuding with California officials over whether Tesla’s factory should remain shut down during the spring of 2020 while the coronavirus pandemic was still in its early stages. As well, the move to Texas is seen as an attempt to evade accountability for turning “a blind eye to years of complaints from Black workers who protest commonplace use of racial slurs on the assembly line.”

More Racial Discrimination

This isn’t the first time Tesla has been accused of racial discrimination. The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2021 that Tesla subjected a black former worker to a racially hostile work environment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent him from being racially harassed. A federal jury awarded more than $130 million in damages to Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory in 2015 and 2016. Tesla said the verdict is unjustified and has asked for a new trial or damages to be reduced. And another black worker, Melvin Berry, claimed his supervisors at the Fremont factory called him a racial slur. The arbitrator ordered Tesla to investigate and stop the racial discrimination but it didn’t follow up.

And in 2017 Tesla was slammed with a class action lawsuit filed by former factory worker Marcus Vaughn, who claimed Tesla failed to investigate complaints of him being repeatedly called the "n-word" by managers and co-workers at the Fremont plant.

In its lawsuit against Tesla, DFEH is seeking unspecified monetary damages, as well as relief including job reinstatement and payment of lost wages and benefits. AP reports that Tesla is now worth more than $900 billion, less than 20 years after Musk set out to transform the auto industry.


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