Tesla, the electric automaker led by Elon Musk, is facing a class-action lawsuit from 240 Black workers who allege that they experienced racial discrimination and harassment at its Fremont plant in California. The workers claim that they were subjected to racial slurs, references to slavery, unequal treatment, and unfair discipline at the factory, which some called the “slaveship” or “the plantation”.
The lawsuit is part of a larger case by Marcus Vaughn, a former Tesla employee who was fired in 2017 after complaining in writing to human resources and to Mr. Musk about the hostile work environment. Mr. Vaughn said that he was called slurs by co-workers and supervisors and that no investigation was conducted. He also said that he received an email from Mr. Musk telling workers to be “thick-skinned” about racial harassment.
The workers seek a public injunction to force Tesla to change its work environment and policies, which they say have allowed racism to go “unchecked for years”. They also seek damages for emotional distress and lost wages.
The lawsuit follows a three-year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which found evidence of rampant racism at the plant. The agency said that it received hundreds of complaints from Black workers who reported racist graffiti, verbal abuse, physical threats, and differential treatment. The agency also said that Tesla’s investigations of complaints were not compliant with the law.
“To have this scope of egregious harassment right here in Silicon Valley, it’s disgusting,” said Bryan Schwartz, one of Mr. Vaughn’s lawyers. “Tesla has continued to deflect and evade responsibility. While it claims to not tolerate racial harassment or discrimination at its factories, Tesla’s investigations of complaints are not compliant with law,” said the DFEH in the lawsuit.
Tesla has denied the allegations and called the lawsuit “misguided”. The company said that it strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment, and that it has disciplined and fired workers who engaged in misconduct. The company also said that the lawsuit focuses on alleged incidents that took place between 2015 and 2019, but that in more recent years the DFEH has dismissed dozens of individual discrimination complaints against the company.
“A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof,” Tesla said in its blog post.
The lawsuit is just one of several lawsuits alleging racism, harassment, and discrimination at Tesla’s Fremont plant. Last year, California regulators sued Tesla in state court over similar claims. In April, a federal jury awarded another former Tesla employee $3.2 million for racial abuse he suffered.
The lawsuit also raises questions about Tesla’s diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as its corporate culture and leadership. The company has faced criticism for its treatment of workers, its safety record, its labor practices, and its environmental impact.
The lawsuit could also affect Tesla’s reputation and sales among its customers and investors, who have been drawn to its innovative products and ambitious vision. Tesla is one of the most valuable car companies in the world, with a market capitalization of over $800 billion. The company has been expanding its production capacity and global presence, as well as developing new technologies such as autonomous driving and battery storage.
– Black workers at California Tesla factory allege rampant racism, seek class-action status, ABC News, June 7, 2023
– Rampant racism alleged by Black workers at California Tesla plant, CBS News, June 8, 2023
– California sues Tesla citing ‘hundreds’ of racism complaints in factory, CNN Business, February 10, 2022