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Lawsuit: Widespread Racial Abuse at Tesla Is 'Ongoing'

EEOC alleges company ignores swastikas, threats, and racial slurs at Fremont factory
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2023 7:20 AM CDT
Lawsuit: Widespread Racial Abuse at Tesla Is 'Ongoing'
Vehicles line a parking lot at Tesla's Fremont, Calif., factory on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Elon Musk's Tesla, alleging "widespread and ongoing racial harassment of its Black employees" and retaliation against those who speak out. The racial misconduct at Tesla's factory in Fremont, California, dating back to at least 2015, "was frequent, ongoing, inappropriate, unwelcome and occurred across all shifts, departments, and positions," reads the federal lawsuit filed Thursday, per the Wall Street Journal. It echoes a pending lawsuit filed last year by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing and an earlier suit from Owen Diaz, a Black contractor who worked at the plant in 2015. A jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million in damages to Diaz, though the award was reduced to more than $3 million in April.

"No worker should endure the kind of shameful racial bigotry our investigation revealed," EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a Thursday statement, per ABC News. The federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights protections for workers alleges the electric car maker violated federal law in allowing workers to trade "slurs and epithets openly" in high-traffic areas. Additionally, "Black employees regularly encountered graffiti, including variations of the N-word, swastikas, threats, and nooses, on desks and other equipment, in bathroom stalls, within elevators, and even on new vehicles," the EEOC said. Tesla failed to address this and even transferred or fired Black employees who reported or opposed the harassment, the EEOC said, per CNBC.

The agency initially sought a pre-litigation settlement. It said Tesla engaged in a mandatory conciliation process, which was ultimately unsuccessful. It now seeks "compensatory and punitive damages, and back pay for the affected workers, as well as injunctive relief designed to reform Tesla's employment practices to prevent such discrimination in the future," according to statement shared with CNBC. In response to previous lawsuits, Tesla said it "strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment." It also claimed it has a track record of disciplining and firing employees who engage in racial harassment. (Federal prosecutors are separately investigating whether Tesla failed to report personal benefits to Musk.)

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