A former Tesla employee has sued the automaker, claiming it fired him last fall in retaliation for telling supervisors about a colleague that was stealing company-owned auto parts and because of his race and ethnicity. It’s at least the fifth lawsuit filed against the company over discrimination allegations dating back to last year.
Daniel Trinh worked as an Operations Associate Manager at Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont, California, up until his termination last October, according to the complaint filed on Tuesday in Alameda Superior County Court.
He received positive performance feedback from supervisors until 2017, when he raised concerns to his supervisors and Tesla’s Human Resources department “about theft of auto parts, including wheels and tires, by another manager,” the suit alleges.
Trinh alleges the stolen parts “were likely to cause significant losses to Tesla’s customers.” He also complained that Tesla’s alleged “failure to properly track customer inventory was likely to result in theft losses.”
“Tesla’s management team and HR department ignored Plaintiff’s complaints, and failed to properly investigate them,” the suit says. “Rather than taking proper responsive action, Defendants management team set about a course of action with the purpose of setting Plaintiff up for termination.”
Daniel Feder, Trinh’s attorney, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, a Tesla spokesperson said, “We have not been able to find a single example of Mr. Trinh raising any of these concerns to anyone at the company.”
“Furthermore, the entire premise of the lawsuit makes no sense,” the spokesperson said. “If an employee brought evidence to us that someone was stealing from the company, we would obviously want to put a stop to it and most certainly would not retaliate against the employee who brought this to our attention.”
Last summer, after raising the complaints to Tesla’s HR team, Trinh claims he received a negative performance evaluation, “which was full of completely misleading, inaccurate and deliberately false accusations about his job performance.”
Trinh, who is Indo-Chinese, also claims he was held to a different performance standard because of his race and national origin. He alleges in the suit that Tesla terminated him last October “because of his race and national origin and because of the many complaints he had made to management about unlawful larceny by his co-workers.”
“Several other employees who were of Hispanic descent were evaluated as having poorer job performance than Plaintiff, but were not terminated because of differential treatment based on their race/national origins,” the suit alleges. (It wasn’t immediately clear what evidence he has that his colleagues had worst job performance reviews.)
The Tesla spokesperson disputed Trinh’s discrimination claims.
“Mr. Trinh’s claim that his managers ‘favored Latino workers’ over him or that this somehow played a factor in his termination is nonsense,” the spokesperson said. “He worked on a very diverse team, a significant percentage of which are of Asian ethnicity. Mr. Trinh was terminated for performance problems—not for any other reason‚and, prior to this, had been provided documented feedback from his manager on multiple occasions.””
Tesla is facing a number of ongoing suits alleging racial discrimination against employees. One pending case in federal court, filed by contractors hired to work at Fremont, is scheduled for trial in 2019.
Trinh’s firing came at a time Tesla made headlines for a wave of several hundred layoffs across the company. Tesla has said the terminations were due to performance reviews, but employees have since claimed they were blindsided by the decision.
An ex-employee, Abraham Duarte, accused Tesla in a lawsuit of violating California state law by failing to give proper notice to those who were terminated. Tesla has asked the court to move Duarte’s suit into private arbitration, and a hearing is scheduled for May 25.
Trinh, in his complaint, asked the court for a jury trial, as well as backpay, compensatory damages, and declaratory relief.