A California employment agency brought a pretty disturbing lawsuit against Tesla Thursday, alleging not just racial segregation at the Fremont plant, but a workplace where racial slurs were commonly scrawled on walls and spoken out loud by management.
The Tesla plant in Fremont has never been one one of those “Best Places to Work” awards winner type workplaces. It was a noted COVID-19 hot spot through parts of the pandemic, while Elon Musk proudly defied public health orders. Female employees have reported “rampant sexual harassment” and on-the-job groping. And when a federal jury has awarded one of your employees $137 million for workplace racial harassment, well, your workplace may have a racial harassment issue.
That issue is being called on the carpet again, as The Verge reports, by a lawsuit just submitted Thursday morning by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is suing Tesla for operating a “racially segregated workplace,” not just in terms of racially segregating the employees by job title and task type, but for allegations that racial slurs were routinely thrown about by management.
KTVU has some direct quotes from the lawsuit, and fair warning, the following quote is pretty disturbing account of what employees saw and dealt with.
"They saw racist graffiti — including ‘N (word),’ ‘KKK,’ swastikas, the Confederate flag, a white (supremacist) skull, ‘go back to Africa,’ and ‘mayate’ – written on the restroom walls, restroom stalls, lockers, workplace benches, workstations, lunch tables, and the break room,” the lawsuit states. “These slurs were even etched onto Defendants’ machinery. One Black worker observed ‘hang N(word)" penned next to a drawing of a noose in the breakroom restroom. This worker also saw 'all monkeys work outside' and ‘f*** N(word)’ on the break room walls. These racial slurs and racial comments, apparent to all who walked by, were left up for months, without Defendants bothering to remove them."
Per the Verge, the DFEH adds in a statement that in addition to the alleged slurs all over the place, Black employees were also “discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment.”
The lawsuit was filed Thursday morning in Alameda Superior Court, but apparently Tesla had a heads-up that it was coming. They released a pre-emptive response statement Wednesday night.
“The lawsuit appears focused on alleged misconduct by production associates at the Fremont factory that took place between 2015 and 2019,” Tesla says in their statement. “Tesla is also the last remaining automobile manufacturer in California. The Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians. No company has done more for sustainability or the creation of clean energy jobs than Tesla. Yet, at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California, the DFEH has decided to sue Tesla instead of constructively working with us.”
Tesla’s tack here seems to be that since they are employing people, the state ought to stay out of their business. Though as the Mercury News points out, Tesla has received more than $1 billion in subsidies from the state of California. That comes with a little accountability, though in this case, the courts will ultimately decide what, if any, accountability to meter out.
Image: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons