Tesla braces for lawsuit from California’s civil rights agency, DFEH
An aerial view of the Tesla Fremont Factory on May 13, 2020 in Fremont, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
California’s civil rights agency has informed Tesla that it has grounds to file a civil complaint against the automaker following an investigation into “undisclosed allegations of race discrimination and harassment at unspecified Tesla locations” in the state.
Tesla revealed the notice from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a financial filing published on Monday. Tesla received the notice on Jan. 3, the filing said.
While Tesla moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas, last year, Elon Musk’s electric vehicle and solar business still operates many facilities throughout the state of California. Tesla operations there include its first U.S. vehicle assembly plant in Fremont, a research and development hub in Palo Alto, a design center in Hawthorne, a foundry and a factory where the company makes energy storage systems in Lathrop, and other subassembly plants, warehouses, and distribution centers, including in Lathrop and Martinez.
The DFEH notice to Tesla follows a string of complaints from current and former Tesla workers in the state.
In October last year, a jury in a San Francisco federal court decided that Tesla should pay a former worker, Owen Diaz, around $137 million after he faced a hostile work environment in which, he told the court, colleagues used epithets to denigrate him and other Black workers, told him to “go back to Africa,” and left racist graffiti in the restrooms and a racist drawing in his workspace.
Tesla said in its financial filing on Monday, “The Company does not believe that the facts and law justify the verdict” and said it would appeal the matter if it could not otherwise get the damages reduced in court.
Another former Tesla worker, Melvin Berry, was awarded $1 million in arbitration after he complained about similar experiences while working for Tesla from 2015 to 2016. After the decision, he told Black Enterprise that a supervisor frequently used racial slurs, and when Berry complained, he was forced to work longer hours with heavier equipment.
More suits have been filed alleging racial harassment and discrimination at Tesla since Berry and Diaz filed their complaints. Last week, Kaylen Barker, a former Tesla worker who is a gay Black woman, said in a suit that she was assaulted and verbally abused by a co-worker at a Tesla facility in Lathrop where she worked inspecting brake parts.
The company and DFEH did not immediately respond to requests for comment.