Tesla Faces 'Pervasive Racial Harassment' Lawsuit at California Factory

The plaintiffs were subjected to repeated racial epithets and hostility dozens of times.

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A federal judge has rejected Tesla‘s attempt at dismissing claims from two former African-American workers out of its California electric car factory, who allege the location was rife with racial hostility.

Earlier this week U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco said plaintiffs Owen Diaz and his son Demetric Di-az could pursue claims that Tesla allowed and did not take reasonable steps to stop racial harassment. The judge found open questions over whether the father and son faced “severe and pervasive racial harassment” in 2015 and 2016 at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory.

Orrick also stated that punitive damages may be available if the company knew about the harassment and “ratified” it, even if “lower-level” workers were the only ones responsible. “The n-word is perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English, a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry,” Orrick wrote. “This case will proceed to trial.”

Tesla’s court papers say it “did not hesitate” to address racial abuse at the Fremont factory, and there was no proof of “oppression, malice, or fraud.” However, Orrick also said Diaz could pursue claims against a staffing agency, as well as a liaison between Tesla and that agency. The plaintiffs’ lawyer Lawrence Organ has said his clients are seeking damages “in the millions” of dollars, stating “Tesla is not sending a message that this kind of conduct in the workplace is not permitted.”

Allegations claim that Diaz’s supervisor admitted to drawing a cartoon of “a blackface person with a bone in his hair” and captioned “boo,” supposedly short for “jigaboo.” Diaz said the supervisor responded by saying “you people can’t take a joke.”

Owen Diaz, who worked at Tesla for 11 months as an elevator operator, and Demetric Di-az who also worked for Tesla two months as a production associate, will have a trial scheduled for May 11, 2020.

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