California jury has ordered Tesla to pay $137 Million in damages to a former Black elevator operator who was subject to hostile work conditions, including discrimination and racial harassment at the Fremont plant.
CNBC and The Washington Post report that Owen Diaz was a contractor at the plant from June 2015 to May 2016. Diaz claimed that daily racist epithets were used at the plant, including the use of the n-word. He also stated that racist graffiti and cartoons were found in his workspace and in the toilets. His colleagues told him to return to Africa. Diaz said that his supervisors did not consistently intervene in these matters and that he suffered from sleeplessness and weight loss as a result.
That is my opinion, the most significant verdict in an employment discrimination case involving individuals of different races
This judgment is unique for many reasons. The judge awarded damages of $130 million in punitive and $6.9million for emotional distress. David Oppenheimer, a Berkeley Law clinical professor of law, stated that he believes this is the largest verdict in an individual-race discrimination in employment case. Second, the case was decided in open court. Tesla, like many Silicon Valley businesses, often requires workers to agree on mandatory arbitration in order to resolve workplace disputes. This means that they cannot sue directly.
Tesla shareholder activists have been complaining for years about the use of arbitration by the company, saying that it suppresses cases like this. In a shareholder proposal, Nia Impact Capital stated that mandatory arbitration limits employees' rights to remedy wrongdoing. It also prevents employees from suing in courts when discrimination or harassment occurs.
However, Tesla has been accused of harassment and racial discrimination at its Fremont facility. Tesla paid $1 million to Melvin Berry, a former employee who claimed he was called "the n-word" by his supervisor. The company is currently facing a class action lawsuit alleging racism at the Fremont plant.
Valerie Capers Workman (Teslas vice president for people) sent an email to employees in response to the verdict in Diaz's case. It was later published on a blog. Workman claims that Tesla intervened when Diaz complained of harassment and ensured prompt and responsive action. However, Workman does not acknowledge that there were many incidents and noted that Tesla's 2015 and 2016 Teslas (when Mr. Diaz was employed in Fremont) are different. Workman also said that Tesla did not plan to appeal the ruling.