Tesla Ordered To Pay $137 Million In Damages To Former Employee Who Suffered ‘Racist, Hostile Environment’


NEW YORK (VINnews) — Autonomous car giant Tesla was forced to pay a former worker 137 million dollars due to racist abuse he endured while working at the company, according to a report on CNBC Monday. The jury awarded even more that the atttorneys requested for their client, slapping the defendant with $6.9 million emotional distress damages ad=nd a whopping $130 million in punitive damages.

Owen Diaz, a former contract worker who was hired to Tesla through a staffing agency in 2015, 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.

Diaz’s attorneys, J. Bernard Alexander with Alexander Morrison + Fehr LLP in Los Angeles and Larry Organ with the California Civil Rights Law Group in San Anselmo, stressed that Diaz was only able to sue because he had not signed Tesla’s mandatory arbitration agreement which requires employees to resolve disputes within the company and not in public trials.

In a New York Times interview Monday evening, Mr. Diaz said he was relieved by the jury’s verdict, delivered earlier in the day. “It took four long years to get to this point,” he said. “It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders.”

Diaz described the racial slurs he had suffered at the company and said that he had reached a breaking point when he witnessed similar racist epithets directed at his son, Demetric, who secured a job — his first — at the company with Mr. Diaz’s help.

“My son watched his father being broken in front of him,” Mr. Diaz said.

In a previous racial charge which was arbitrated within the company, Tesla was forced to pay $1 million to another worker who endured a racist, hostile workplace.

A pending class-action lawsuit in Alameda County in California — Vaughn v. Tesla Inc. — also alleges that Tesla is rife with racist discrimination and harassment.

“We were able to put the jury in the shoes of our client,” Alexander told CNBC. “When Tesla came to court and tried to say they were zero tolerance and they were fulfilling their duty, The jury was just offended by that because it was actually zero responsibility.”

Tesla issued a blog post late Monday to the general public, which it said had been distributed internally to employees earlier by Tesla VP of People Valerie Capers Workman. In the post, she downplayed the severity of the racist discrimination Diaz described.

For example, Workman’s letter said:

“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.”

Workman added that Tesla was responsive to Mr. Diaz’s complaints, firing two contractors and suspending another. Tesla does not believe the facts justify the verdict, she wrote, but acknowledges that the company was “not perfect” in 2015 and 2016. “We’re still not perfect,” she added. “But we have come a long way.”

Workman’s statement did not specify whether or when Tesla plans to appeal.

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