By Michael Liedtke | The Associated Press
A bombshell lawsuit filed by the state of California against Tesla Inc. details horrific allegations of racial discrimination against black employees at the electric carmaker’s Fremont plant.
News of the lawsuit broke on Tuesday, but the lawsuit and its allegations were not available until late Wednesday.
Black employees, the suit says, have been compared to apes and slaves at the Bay Area plant where most of Tesla’s fashionable vehicles are made.
The 39-page lawsuit, filed Wednesday evening in Alameda County Superior Court by the California Department of Fair Jobs and Housing, casts Tesla’s recent headquarters move to Texas as an attempt to escape the responsibility for turning a blind eye to years of complaints from black workers protesting the common use of racial slurs on the assembly line.
The lawsuit appears likely to widen the rift between Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, and the state where he started the company. Tesla is now worth more than $900 billion, less than 20 years after Musk set out to transform the auto industry.
Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters to Austin, Texas, from Palo Alto last year after publicly sparring with California officials over whether Tesla’s factory should remain closed in the spring of 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. coronavirus was still in its early stages.
In response to the complaints, the lawsuit alleges Musk told workers to be “thick” about racial harassment, contributing to a culture that is slow to clean up racist graffiti and other hate symbols scrawled around the factory.
Besides the N-word, other racist terms used in the factory include descriptions comparing black workers to a “porch monkey” and “hood rats” and suggestions that they are “going back to Africa”, according to the trial.
The complaint also alleges that the factory was racially segregated, which resulted in the area where black workers worked being derided as the “slave ship” or “the plantation.”
Before news of the lawsuit broke earlier this week, Tesla preemptively released a statement on its website decrying what it called an “unfair and counterproductive” lawsuit.
The company said the agency had been asked nearly 50 times over the past five years to investigate allegations of discrimination and harassment, and closed each investigation without finding any evidence of misconduct.
“It therefore severely tests the agency’s credibility to allege now, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla,” the company wrote. company, while trying to portray the lawsuit as a publicity stunt.
The allegations against Tesla stem from a 32-month investigation into its discriminatory practices, according to the lawsuit. The suit seeks back wages for black employees who were unfairly passed over for promotions and raises, reinstatement of workers who lost their jobs for discriminatory reasons, and punitive damages.
Musk, who frequently uses his Twitter account with 73 million followers to comment on issues affecting Telsa, hadn’t posted about the discrimination lawsuit Thursday night.
This is not the first time that Tesla’s treatment of the roughly 15,000 employees at its Fremont factory has come under scrutiny. The plant, located about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, remains Tesla’s largest electric car maker, although the company has opened additional plants, including a new one in Texas.
Last October, a federal jury awarded $137 million in damages to a black former elevator operator who alleged he was subjected to daily racial slurs and other forms of harassment while he worked at the Fremont plant in 2015 and 2016 before quitting. Tesla is appealing that verdict and has denied any knowledge of racist behavior that former elevator operator Owen Diaz said took place at the factory.
And then more than half a dozen current and former Tesla employees filed another lawsuit alleging the company failed to take adequate steps to protect them from sexual harassment. Tesla is seeking to escalate these claims to arbitration.
David Lowe, one of the lawyers representing the women accusing Tesla of sexual harassment, called the latest lawsuit a glaring example of “an incredibly toxic culture and environment that many of these employees work in” – one that seems contrary to its reputation as a state-of-the-art company.
Tesla is “so advanced on a level,” Lowe said, “and yet in terms of how its workers are treated and racial harassment and sexual harassment, it’s almost like a company from another era. They are so behind on how they treat their workers.
About 10% of Tesla’s U.S. employees are black and 21% are women, according to the company’s latest employment breakdown.
AP videographer Terry Chea contributed to this story.