The US state of California has sued Tesla for alleged discrimination and harassment of black employees at its San Francisco Bay Area plant. Hundreds of complaints from workers prompted the lawsuit, said Kevin Kish, director of the California Fair Employment and Housing Administration.
Owen Diaz is all too familiar with the new allegations. Even if his court case was completed last fall. Diaz is African-American and worked as an elevator operator at Tesla's Fremont headquarters in 2015. He says of his colleagues at the time: "They called me Boy and removed the batteries from the elevator. Sometimes they also said, 'Nigger push the button'."
He was proud of his work, Diaz says today. Above all, working for a company that cares about the environment. He still supports Tesla CEO Elon Musk's mission, but what he doesn't endorse is how it's being accomplished, Diaz said. "When I complained to the superiors about the insults, they declared me enemy number one."
$137 million in damages
After nine months of racial abuse, Diaz has given up and is suing the automaker for $101 million in damages. A jury in San Francisco did not award him the $101 million in the fall, but $137 million. Diaz's attorney, Larry Organ, says, "The jury awarded him more money than we originally asked for, I think because the jury was appalled that Tesla could have allowed such racist behavior."
The fact that Owen is not an isolated case at the Fremont plant, which has a good 10,000 employees, is proven by other lawsuits from the past few weeks: more than half a dozen women – current and former Tesla employees – have filed another lawsuit. In this they explain that the company has not taken sufficient measures to protect them from sexual harassment.
New lawsuit after hundreds of complaints
The California Fair Employment and Housing Authority, which brought the recent lawsuit against the automaker, says it has received hundreds of complaints from the Fremont plant. The agency said it found evidence that "Tesla has segregated jobs." In addition: Black employees are exposed to racist insults and they are disadvantaged in the assignment of jobs, in payment and in promotion.
"Attacking a company like Tesla, which has done so much good for California, shouldn't be the primary goal of a government agency," the automaker said. The company described the more than three-year investigation by the authority as not very credible and tried to present it as a publicity stunt.
Last year it became apparent that the relationship between Tesla boss Musk, who was the richest person in the world as of February, and California is broken. Musk had announced that he would be moving the company headquarters from liberal California to conservative Texas. One reason was probably that he wanted to reopen the Fremont plant in spring 2020 just a few weeks after the outbreak of the pandemic. The Californian authorities had denied him that at the time.