Three black former Tesla employees claim they suffered racial discrimination and racially-motivated abuse by company supervisors and fellow employees, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The three plaintiffs, Owen Diaz and his son, Demetric, as well as Lamar Patterson, claim they were subjected to racially-charged remarks, racist graffiti drawings, and were directly called the n-word multiple times, by both coworkers and their superiors, according to the lawsuit filed yesterday in the Alameda County Superior Court in California.
In a comment provided by Tesla, the company claims the only complaint filed with Tesla from any of the plaintiffs was over an issue of a “belligerent coworker.” The lawsuit claims multiple complaints were filed with the plaintiffs’ respective employment agencies.
The companies are included as defendants in the lawsuit alongside Tesla as Citistaff Solutions, which employed Owen Diaz, West Valley Staffing Group, which employed Demetric Diaz, and Chartwell Staffing Services, which employed Lamar Patterson. The suit argues that the accusations concern both the respective employment agencies and Tesla as joint employers.
Tesla clarified in a statement to Jalopnik that the plaintiffs were employed for a relatively short period through third party companies, and that these issues were apparently only made aware to them by media outlets after the fact.
The lawsuit was originally reported by The Mercury News, which detailed the alleged discriminatory harassment toward the three plaintiffs, as well as toward other employees within Tesla and the employment agencies. From Mercury News:
Demetric Diaz complained about the regular use of epithets to the staffing agency and another supervisor, the suit said. The supervisor told him he was just a replaceable temporary worker. Diaz was dismissed less than a week later in October 2015.
Owen Diaz continued to work as an elevator operator. But over time, the suit claimed, the harassment grew worse. A co-worker regularly used the N-word. Diaz found an offensive “pickaninny” cartoon with the caption “Boo!” drawn on a bale of cardboard.
Owen Diaz also got into a heated argument with the supervisor who drew the cartoon, the suit said. He complained about the incident, and started to receive poor work evaluations. Diaz left Tesla around May 2016.
Patterson worked as an elevator operator between January and August 2016, and also claims in the suit to have been the exposed to epithets and hostility.
Tesla has been the subject of many labor complaints and lawsuits involving the companies it hires for employment services, as well as the working conditions within its Fremont, California manufacturing facility.
In August of this year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla based on claims of harassment related to the alleged suppression of a unionization of Tesla’s employees. In March, The Mercury News reported on another lawsuit, represented by the same attorney as the present case, which alleged racial discrimination in the Tesla workplace. In February, the automaker was sued by a woman engineer for harassment and discrimination, and a Medium article written by a supposed Tesla employee alleged workers were frequently underpaid and workplace conditions led to multiple injuries.
In October of last year, a former Tesla engineer filed a complaint against the company for age discrimination, and a lawsuit in May of last year claimed Tesla violated visa and labor laws through one of its construction contractors. Tesla has repeatedly denied all of these claims, but the latest suit adds to a growing pile of accusations against the company of fostering an unseemly work environment for some employees. Tesla stresses that every employee must take anti-discrimination and harassment training.
You can read through the entire Diaz vs. Tesla lawsuit filing over on The Verge.
The full statement provided to Jalopnik from Tesla is as follows:
“No employee should ever feel harassed or mistreated based on their race, gender, beliefs or anything else. There are over 33,000 people working at Tesla, and given our size, we recognize that unfortunately at times there will be cases of harassment or discrimination in corners of the company. For there to be zero cases in a global workforce of 33,000 would be impossible for any company, no matter how much we care. And we care a lot, particularly given how hard everyone at Tesla works to do what most regard as impossible. In situations where Tesla is at fault, we will never seek to avoid responsibility. But in this instance, from what we know so far, this does not seem to be such a case. Here is what we know:
- We were first made aware of these allegations when they were relayed to us secondhand by two media outlets.
- The attorney who is filing this lawsuit previously brought a similar suit against Tesla earlier this year after the company refused his demand for a seven figure payment in order to resolve the matter. A judge has made a procedural ruling against the plaintiff, and this attorney has since been shopping the suit around for a different forum to help him achieve a more favorable outcome. When the attorney filed the suit earlier this year, it was timed to coincide with a carefully planned media blitz in an attempt to create a disingenuous narrative that was at odds with the facts. Similarly, the attorney has once again contacted the exact same media outlets and published a press release to put out a story that is critical of Tesla. The timing of these new claims and the manner in which they are being publicized is notable, particularly coming from the same attorney.
- The individuals who are making these claims were at Tesla for only a short time and have been gone for well over a year. Additionally, they worked for two different third-party agencies rather than directly for Tesla.
- None of these individuals has ever brought a claim about their time at Tesla until now, in some cases years after they were last at Tesla. Normally, when claims like this are made, the employee first makes a complaint to a regulator such as the DFEH or EEOC. Strangely, that never happened in this case.
- Thus far, the only somewhat relevant evidence we have found is an email from Owen Diaz to his supervisor from October 2015 in which Mr. Diaz claimed that a coworker was yelling and making aggressive comments. That email made no mention of the use of any racist language or epithets.
Tesla takes any and every form of discrimination or harassment extremely seriously. Recently, we launched an online anti-discrimination and harassment training that is required of all employees at every level. HR business partners also regularly conduct in-person spot training sessions with teams, especially when an allegation or complaint has been made but the evidence is not conclusive enough to warrant fair disciplinary action. Importantly, we’ve also created a dedicated employee relations team focused exclusively on investigating workplace concerns, recommending disciplinary action, and assisting leaders with action planning to improve employee behavior. Again, Tesla is comprised of 33,000 people, and about 10,000 of them work in the Fremont factory. We will never be able to stop every single person in the factory from engaging in inappropriate conduct, but we will continue to do everything that we can to encourage the right behavior and to take action whenever something bad happens.”
Edit, 8:05 p.m.: The introduction of this article was altered for clarity.