Tesla hit with $137 million judgment in workplace racism case
According to Associated Press, United States District Court in northern California ordered Tesla Inc. to pay over $137 million in damages to a Black former employee on Monday, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal.
Owen Diaz alleged in a lawsuit that he was harassed and faced daily racist epithets, including the N-word while working at Tesla’s Fremont plant in 2015 and 2016 before quitting. Diaz was a contracted elevator operator. Diaz alleged that employees drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the plant. He contended that supervisors failed to stop the abuse.
“Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the lawsuit said.
A federal jury agreed that the employee had been subject to a racially hostile work environment and that Tesla had failed to take adequate measures to prevent Diaz from being racially abused, according to the report.
The jury awarded Diaz $6.9 in damages for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages, his attorney, Lawrence A. Organ, told the Washington Post.
The ruling comes as Tesla faces other racial discrimination complaints. Tesla has previously denied any knowledge of the alleged racist conduct at the plant, which has about 10,000 workers.
Earlier this year, the company had to pay $1 million to a Black former employee who had faced similar issues involving racism. That case was settled by arbitration, per company policy on resolving most employee disputes. Diaz’s case was not subject to arbitration and could take the case to federal court because he was employed as a contractor through a staffing agency.
It’s not yet clear whether Tesla will appeal the court’s decision. The settlement would be one of the largest ever paid out in a case involving racial discrimination at the workplace.