Tesla's Racism From The Perspective Of Its Black Employees

Tesla often retaliated against Black workers for complaining about racism and harassment.

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Image: Josh Edelson (Getty Images)

Tesla has a problem, and it’s one not too many people are talking about outside of Jalopnik: Its racism against Black employees. We’ve covered it extensively: the $1 million settlement the company had to pay over racial slurs; the $137 million discrimination settlement; Tesla’s acknowledgment of the racism; even Musk’s bullshit response to it by saying “be thick skinned”, it doesn’t seem like the racism will go away. And no one has really talked to the people it’s been happening to. Until now, as the LA Times spoke with three former Tesla employees about their experience with racism at Tesla.

All three workers and their accounts are detailed in a lawsuit that was filed February 9 in the California Superior Court in Alameda. With over 4,000 Black workers (both current and former), the LA Times says it’s the largest discrimination suit in state history.

One mom working two jobs, Monica Chatman, started at Tesla in ‘16 after leaving FedEx. She says she made $19.50 an hour driving a forklift with car parts. She claims that Black workers were routinely made to do the hardest work tasks, calling it “modern-day slavery.”

Chatman’s first supervisor, a white woman, transferred four South Asian men to a different route after they had worked as a team hoisting half-shafts, carpets and brake lines. She told Chatman to take over.

“I was a skinny 115 pounds,” Chatman recalled. “I said, ‘You’re telling me to do a four-man job by myself?’ Her words were: ‘Do the job or lose your job.’

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This is all in addition to the verbal racism she said she witnessed, with both white and Latino workers referring to Black workers as the N-word. Chatman says she didn’t hear Asian workers using the slur, but that they would make stereotypical fried chicken jokes.

Another worker who started in 2017, Kimberly Romby, was hired on as a material handler. Coming from local oil refineries she says she was excited to get into green energy. She says her harassment started not long after starting the job.

Within weeks, she said, two young Latino co-workers began harassing her with homophobic slurs after she mentioned she had a wife.

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Complaints to HR were met with her coincidently being transferred to more laborious tasks, with her claiming that she overheard supervisors say “Them N—s over there … they’re lazy.”

Lastly, there’s Nigel Jones who started at Tesla in 2016. He’d overhear the racial slurs and was warned by other Black workers to not complain about the racism because he could lose his job. He was eventually promoted to a fleet manager for the factory’s forklifts. But he said he wasn’t taken seriously and was excluded by the other managers because he was Black.“I was young and Black and didn’t get invited to anything. I was outcasted from the get-go.”

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Unfortunately, none of this surprises me. One thing is for certain though: you’ll never catch me behind the wheel of a Tesla.