Tesla engineer AJ Vandermeyden says she's paid a lower salary than her male counterparts for her work at the luxury electric car company where she claims she's subjected to workplace harassment in an environment dominated by men. “Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” Vandermeyden tells the Guardian, though she fears retaliation or recrimination for speaking out against the company where she's worked since 2013 and for filing a discrimination lawsuit against the automaker last year.
“I’m an advocate of Tesla," Vandermeyden, 33, told the Guardian in her first interview since filing the suit. "I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.” Vandermeyden's complaint alleges that women, “equally or more qualified” than men, were denied promotions given to those men and that, generally speaking, men were better compensated by the company. “Equal pay is something that is essentially in the back of your mind every single day,” she said. “You have all these data points showing how you’ve exceeded some of the predecessors and improved on the system. It wears on you.”
The complaint also describes a culture of “unwelcome and pervasive harassment by men on the factory floor including but not limited to inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls.” In one 2015 instance, male employees "started hooting and hollering and whistling" at her and another female employee. That can’t happen without somebody noticing It’s disturbing.” Vandermeyden said, adding that she's even transferred out of her former post in general assembly to the purchasing department to avoid the alleged harassment.
Vandermeyden's allegations against Tesla precede those made by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler in a blog post, into which the ride-hailing company has launched an investigation with former attorney general Eric Holder involved. But at Tesla, by contrast, Vandermeyden's formal allegations have been dismissed or denied: A Tesla spokesperson told the guardian that a "neutral third party" review found her “claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated."
Tesla executives took a similar approach earlier last month when one factory worker, Jose Moran, called attention to what he described as dangerous and unfair labor conditions at the company's Fremont plant in a Medium post detailing work-relating injuries and decrying low pay, Moran proposed unionization, writing that he and others had discussed the matter and reached out to the United Auto Workers union for support.
But Tesla CEO Elon Musk disputed Moran's claims in an email to employees obtained by BuzzFeed that called the United Auto Worker's union's reasons for promoting unionization “disingenuous or outright false.” Musk also denied Moran's safety claim. “After looking into this claim, not only was it untrue for this individual’s team, it was untrue for any of the hundreds of teams in the factory,” the CEO wrote.
To rally the troops, Musk described Tesla's need to work together to succeed on the difficult road ahead. "The forces arrayed against us are many and incredibly powerful," he wrote, "This is David vs Goliath if David were six inches tall! Only by being smarter, faster and working well as a tightly integrated team do we have any chance of success."
So, as if in lieu of a union, Musk proposed perks and amenities that were just around the corner. These, which would appear with more frequency as the company became more profitable, would be "little things that come along like free frozen yogurt stands scattered around the factory and my personal favorite: a Tesla electric pod car roller coaster (with an optional loop the loop route, of course!) that will allow fast and fun travel throughout our Fremont campus, dipping in and out of the factory and connecting all the parking lots."
Who needs a union when you've got a roller coaster? Wheeeeeeeee!