Former Tesla worker awarded $3.2m in racial abuse lawsuit

Francis Akhalbey April 04, 2023
Owen Diaz rejected an initial $15M payout -- Photo via New York Post

A former Tesla worker who filed a racial abuse lawsuit against the electric-automobile manufacturer was on Monday awarded about $3.2 million by a federal jury in San Francisco. According to the New York Post, the money was awarded to Owen Diaz after it was established Tesla did nothing to tackle serious racial harassment that occurred at its California assembly plant.

The verdict also comes after a different jury initially ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $137 million in 2021. At the time, the verdict was the largest amount awarded in an employment discrimination case in the history of the United States. 

However, a federal judge ultimately reduced the amount to $15 million and gave Diaz two weeks to accept the payout, Face2Face Africa previously reported, but he turned down the reduced payout and requested a new trial. 

Diaz was employed as a contracted elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory for nine months; between 2015 and 2016. In the 2017 lawsuit, Diaz alleged he was subjected to harassment and “daily racist epithets” during his time at the facility. Diaz alleged the employees at the plant used racist epithets including the “N-word.”

Diaz also alleged swastikas and racist graffiti were drawn on company property by employees, adding that supervisors did not put in the effort to bring the abuse to an end. “Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the lawsuit stated.

Diaz was seeking $160 million in the retrial, but the jury decided to award him $175,000 for emotional distress damages and $3 million in punitive damages. Responding to the verdict, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted the decision “would’ve been zero” if the judge gave the company the green light to present new evidence. 

“Jury did the best they could with the information they had. I respect the decision,” Musk added. 

During Friday’s closing arguments, Diaz’s lawyer, Bernard Alexander, asked the jury to award his client the aforementioned amount so as to deter other large companies from entertaining discrimination at the workplace, the New York Post reported. 

“Mr. Diaz’s outlook on the world has been permanently changed,” Alexander said. “That is what happens when you take away a person’s safety.”

Tesla’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, claimed Diaz was a confrontational employee who blew his emotional distress claims out of proportion. He also said the Black man’s lawyers were unable to prove if Tesla caused any severe or permanent damage. 

“They’re just throwing numbers up on the screen like this is some kind of game show,” said Spiro.

Tesla’s lawyers also claimed Diaz’s testimonies were inaccurate, and repeatedly argued that the plaintiff failed to submit written complaints to his supervisors. But Diaz told the court that he lodged several verbal complaints and also spoke about the issues with human resources officials in the company.

Tesla is also facing another lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH accuses the company of subjecting its Black Fremont factory workers to racism and harassment, TechCrunch reported.

The $137 million initially awarded to Diaz was reduced to $15 million after Tesla appealed the 2021 verdict. The electric-vehicle manufacturer had argued that Diaz was supposed to receive only $600,000.

San Francisco U.S. district judge, William Orrick, ultimately slashed the compensatory and punitive damages to $1.5 million and 13.5 million respectively, ruling that he could not establish a controlling question of law to support a prompt appeal of the reduced payout, TechCrunch reported.

The judge also said he was convinced the initial amount the jury awarded to Diaz was over the top, and giving the green light for a prompt appeal “would further delay resolution of a case that is already five years old.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 4, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates