Tesla: Modern Technology, Old School Racism?

October 12, 2021 |

Tesla is known for its futuristic cars, rockets, solar panels–all sorts of new ideas. Among those new products, the factory floor at Tesla may have an old, ugly problem: racism. Last week, a jury awarded $137 million to a former contract worker at its Fremont, CA, factory for creating a hostile work environment in 2015-2016, by failing to address repeated racist acts. The plaintiff claimed that despite repeated complaints, Tesla failed to act. It seems that the jury agreed as the punitive damages were a whopping $130 million. The lawsuit was unusual because Tesla insists on arbitration agreements, which this employee did not sign.

Tesla’s problem is not confined to this case. Since 2018, nearly 120 people have requested the right to sue Tesla in California for discriminatory reasons related to race, national ancestry, skin color, gender, age, disability or other factors related to family and medical leave. Several suits have been filed by the California Civil Rights Law Group against Tesla for racial harassment and discrimination issues, including an ongoing class action that claims that workers at Tesla’s Fremont factory are regularly subject to an environment where they are called the “n” word, find racist slurs and graffiti on bathroom walls and are treated differently because of their race.

Tesla’s posted a strong response to the lawsuit, claiming that the plaintiff did not work directly for Tesla but as a contractor; the use of the “n” word was mostly used in a friendly manner between African Americans; Tesla did in fact address complaints and that Tesla of 2015-2016 was not the place it is today. Of course, none of those points were enough to overcome the jury verdict and are questionable PR tactics too. Tesla has not stated if it plans an appeal.

Tesla may be a cutting-edge company but the problems they face require real time, practical solutions. Solid training of the entire workforce, thorough investigations and regular monitoring of the workplace culture can avoid egregious cases like this. It’s not rocket science.

Questions? We can help.

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