Tesla has been dogged by reports that it fails to report serious workplace injuries on legally-mandated logs, and now the automaker’s former safety director is claiming in a lawsuit that he was fired in retaliation for raising concerns about the alleged practice. Update: Tesla has responded to the lawsuit, alleging that the executive was fired after management received an “onslaught of complaints” about his behavior, which included intimidation and making allegedly inappropriate comments about women.
If found to be accurate, the claims by the former executive substantiate those made in a scathing report by the magazine Reveal in April that disputed the electric automaker’s safety record.
Carlos Ramirez was Tesla’s Director of Environmental, Health, Safety, and Sustainability until June 2017, according to a complaint filed last Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court. Prior to that, his LinkedIn page says, he worked as the Vice President of Safety for SolarCity, the energy company that Tesla acquired in late 2016.
While at Tesla, according to the complaint, Ramirez was assigned the task of creating a safety program at Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont, California.
“To accomplish this, Plaintiff became familiar with the Tesla Fremont manufacturing plant,” the suit says. “In addition, Plaintiff and his team audited the Tesla Incident Reporting System, in which workplace accidents/injuries are record and managed.”
As a result of the audit, Ramirez claims Tesla’s incident reporting system revealed “numerous instances of lack of treatment of Tesla employees that suffered workplace injuries, recordkeeping violations, and improper classification of workplace injuries to avoid treating and reporting workplace injuries.”
Ramirez claims he reported the discrepancies to Tesla, and says in the lawsuit that the automaker “made allegedly untrue statements to the state and the public based on incorrect OSHA 300 records and incident rate numbers.” (Mark Le Clerc, Ramirez’s attorney, told Jalopnik: “We do not have any comment at this time.”)
Issues surrounding Tesla’s workplace records came to light in April, after the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting’s publication Reveal put out a story that said Tesla improperly classifies injuries on the OSHA 300 report—paperwork by the government required to log serious work-related injuries and illnesses—which effectively bolstered its safety record.
California regulators launched an investigation the next day, without saying whether it was in response to Reveal’s report. Tesla vehemently denied the allegations and insisted its workplace injury rate is better than the auto industry’s average. (Incredibly, the automaker went so far as to label Reveal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news outlet, of being an “extremist organization.”)
But now Ramirez’s suit alleges he flagged the very issue at hand in Reveal’s report over a year ago directly to the automaker.
At a May 19, 2017, workplace meeting, Ramirez alleges he reported “unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and practices” and “disclosed information he had reasonable cause to believe disclosed a violation” of state or federal laws, including “allegedly inaccurate Tesla OSHA 300 records, incident rate numbers, and improper classification of workplace injuries.”
Weeks later, the suit says, Tesla fired him.
“Among other adverse employment actions, Tesla wrongfully accused Plaintiff of bullying, brought unfounded complaints against him, and terminated Plaintiff’s employment on June 8, 2017,” the lawsuit alleges.
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ramirez’s suit lays out a litany of issues that he said he raised to Tesla about “unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and work practices,” including chemical and oil spills, chemical fires, workplace injury rate discrepancies and inaccuracies, and a failure to report or document workplace injuries.
Around the time of the May 2017 meeting, Ramirez alleges he also complained to his boss about two Tesla employees being “racially biased” toward him. (Ramirez identifies as a Mexican-American Hispanic in the suit.)
Ramirez says his supervisor asked him if he “really needed to send” an email “that contained a complaint and report of such lawful conduct,” according to the suit. “He told Plaintiff that his complaint would just create problems.”
The lawsuit lays out several claims for retaliation and discrimination and asks for various compensatory and nominal damages.
Tesla has been hit by several lawsuits over the last year from employees at the Fremont factory for alleged workplace violations, as well as sales employees, who recently secured a $1 million settlement from the automaker over the alleged compensation issues. (Tesla denied any wrongdoing in the settlement.)
The National Labor Relations Board also filed a complaint against Tesla, after the agency said it corroborated claims levied by the United Auto Workers. A trial over the NLRB complaint began Monday and is slated to resume Tuesday morning.
UPDATE 6:58 PM EDT: A Tesla spokesperson responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
Mr. Ramirez was employed by Tesla for less than four months after joining from SolarCity, and during his short time at Tesla, it was his job to identify ways to enhance our safety program, and he certainly was not terminated for doing so. That would make no sense.
Mr. Ramirez was terminated because after an extensive investigation, it was clear that he had engaged over and over again in harassing workplace behavior and used extremely inappropriate language that violated any reasonable standard. We conducted our investigation after we received an onslaught of complaints about Mr. Ramirez’s behavior, with nearly a dozen different employees stating that he engaged in clear bullying, sought to intimidate his colleagues, and repeatedly made inappropriate comments about women. Importantly, this was not a case of he said/she said. There were literally almost a dozen people who came forward to complain about Mr. Ramirez – notably, from a wide variety of different locations and departments within the company, some of whom were Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports and others who were his peers in other departments. Among the evidence that was provided:
- One employee said that Mr. Ramirez commented on a fellow employee by saying ‘she’s got some big old [expletive].’ This obviously made the employee very uncomfortable.
- One of Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports said that he made inappropriate comments towards women, calling them names like ‘hun’, and that he regularly tried to intimidate others.
- Another employee told her manager that because of the abrasive language that Mr. Ramirez repeatedly used against her, she never wanted to interact with him again.
- One of Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports said that he regularly mistreated his team, and that she felt he bullied team members and others with abusive remarks.
- Multiple employees said that they were fearful of coming forward because they had witnessed Mr. Ramirez engage in intimidation and they were scared of being retaliated against by him.
Bullying and harassment have no place at Tesla.