Tesla told to pay $137 million to ex-employee for racial abuse

Francis Akhalbey October 06, 2021
Owen Diaz rejected an initial $15M payout -- Photo via New York Post

A San Francisco court has ordered Tesla Inc. to pay nearly $137 million to a former Black worker who filed a lawsuit against the electric-automobile manufacturer alleging racial harassment and a hostile working environment.

According to The Associated Press, the ruling came after a jury concurred Owen Diaz endured the aforementioned treatment while he was employed as a contracted elevator operator at the company’s San Francisco Bay Area factory.

Per the lawsuit, Diaz alleged he was subjected to harassment and “daily racist epithets” during his time at Tesla’s Fremont plant between 2015 and 2016. Among the racist epithets that Diaz alleged the employees at the plant used included 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.

During the trial, Diaz spoke about how he was impacted, saying he suffered “sleepless nights” and also lost weight because of appetite loss, Bloomberg reported. “Some days I would just sit on my stairs and cry,” Diaz told the jury.

The jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in damages for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages. “It took four long years to get to this point,” Diaz told The New York Times. “It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders.”

Diaz’s lawyer, Lawrence A. Organ, added: “It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people.”

It is yet to be established if Tesla intends to appeal the decision. However, the company had initially said it was unaware there were incidents of alleged racism at the plant, The Associated Press reported.

Tesla reportedly handles workplace complaints and allegations through mandatory arbitration, and the company barely loses though such cases have been many. A former worker who similarly accused the electric car manufacturing giant of racism was awarded more than $1 million by an arbitrator in May.

However, Diaz’s case is different as he was contracted by a staffing agency to work for Tesla. He wasn’t required to sign an arbitration agreement as a result.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 6, 2021


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