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Lawsuits & Litigation

California Follows Through On Threats, Files Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Tesla

— February 10, 2022

California claims that racial harassment and abusive language are commonplace in Tesla’s automotive plants across the state.

California regulators have followed up on threats to file a lawsuit against Tesla Inc., alleging widespread discrimination in the company’s automotive manufacturing plants.

According to ABC News, the lawsuit is likely to aggravate tensions between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and California.

While Musk founded the company in the Golden State, he moved Tesla’s headquarters from Paolo Alto, California, to Austin, Texas, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States. Musk’s decision was influenced by California’s rules on workplace safety and social distancing.

Now, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has said Tesla only moved to Texas to avoid accountability for turning “a blind eye to the years of complaints from Black workers who protest commonplace use of racial slurs on the assembly line.”

The 39-page lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, recalls how Musk told workers to be “thick-skinned” about racial harassment.

The complaint notes that Black Tesla workers have long reported widespread, repeated harassment in Tesla facilities, especially its Fremont plant.

Black workers have allegedly been called the “N-word” to their face and been subjected to other racial slurs, such as “porch monkey” and “hood rat.” Several former employees said they had been told to “go back to Africa.”

An under-construction Tesla vehicle. Image via Flickr/user:pestoverde. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Perhaps most surprisingly, the lawsuit asserts that Tesla enforced some sort of racial segregation, resulting in predominately Black parts of the factory being called “the slave ship” or “the plantation.”

POLITICO notes that Tesla has already been found liable for failing to address racial harassment in the past: last October, a San Francisco-based jury awarded nearly $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black contractor who said he faced “daily racial epithets.”

While most Tesla employees cannot sue the company due to strict arbitration clauses, Diaz was able to take Tesla to court because he was not directly employed by the company.

California now claims that Diaz’s experience was not unique, and that many of Tesla’s Black workers have faced similar harassment.

However, Tesla has denied all wrongdoing. In response to the allegations, the company said that California has investigated more than 50 complaints of racial discrimination at Tesla and closed each one without any finding of misconduct.

“It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla,” the company said in a statement.

In a separate blog post, Tesla said the lawsuit is bad for California.

“Attacking a company like Tesla that has done so much good for California should not be the overriding aim of a state agency with prosecutorial authority,” it said.


California accuses Tesla of alleged discrimination at plant

California accuses Tesla of racial discrimination in lawsuit

Factbox: California lawsuit latest to accuse Tesla of discrimination

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