Tesla ordered to pay $137m to ex-employee over racism

According to the petitioner’s lawyer, Tesla Inc. lost a trial with a former Black elevator operator and must pay him $137 million for turning a blind eye to racial taunts and offensive graffiti he endured at the electric-car maker’s northern California plant.

A former contract worker hired in 2015 through a staffing agency, Owen Diaz, was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, a federal jury in San Francisco decided Monday, said Lawrence Organ, a lawyer for Diaz. 

In a recent blog post Valarie, Tesla’s Vice President for People listed the following facts of the case heard by the Jury.

  • Mr. Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff and nextSource.
  • 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.
  • Even though Mr. Diaz now complains about racial harassment at Fremont, at the time he said he was being harassed, he recommended to his son and daughter – while they were all living together in the same home – that they work at Tesla with him.

She reassured that “we will continue to remind everyone who enters the Tesla workplace that any discriminatory slurs – no matter the intent or who is using them – will not be tolerated.”

According to Diaz’s other attorney, Larry Organ, the jury’s award included $6.9 million for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages. 

The case Diaz v. Tesla Inc., 17-cv-06748 was held at U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). 

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