Black ex-Tesla worker who claimed racial abuse awarded $137M
Black ex-Tesla worker who claims he was racially abused every day at California plant including being called the N-word, is awarded $137MILLION payout
- The jury in San Francisco agreed that Owen Diaz was subjected to racial harassment and a hostile work environment
- Diaz alleged in a lawsuit that he was harassed and faced ‘daily racist epithets,’ including the ‘N-word,’ while working at Tesla´s Fremont plant
- Diaz alleged that employees drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the plant
- He contended that supervisors failed to stop the abuse
- In May, an arbitrator ordered Tesla to pay more than $1 million over similar allegations by another former Fremont factory worker, Melvin Berry, 47
Tesla Inc. must pay nearly $137 million to a Black former worker who said he suffered racial abuse at the electric carmaker´s San Francisco Bay Area factory.
The jury in San Francisco agreed that Owen Diaz was subjected to racial harassment and a hostile work environment.
Diaz’s lawsuit described the Fremont, California, plant, as a ‘hotbed of racist behavior’ where he was subjected to daily racist abuse including the N-word, over a course of 11 months from 2015 to 2016.
The 52-year-old contracted elevator operator claimed fellow employees drew swastikas and left racist graffiti around the plant, while he said one of his supervisors drew a person with a black face and a bone in his hair and wrote ‘booo,’ short for ‘jigaboo.’ The supervisor then allegedly told him ‘he couldn’t take a joke’ when Diaz confronted him. Diaz contended that none of his supervisors stepped in to stop the abuse.
Tesla Inc. must pay nearly $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black former worker who said he suffered racial abuse at the electric carmaker´s San Francisco Bay Area factory
It’s the second time this year a black former employee has won a payout from Tesla in a discrimination suit.
‘Tesla´s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,’ the lawsuit said.
Diaz was awarded $6.9million in damages for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages, his attorney, Lawrence A. Organ, told the Washington Post.
‘It took four long years to get to this point,’ Diaz told the New York Times. ‘It´s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders.’
‘It´s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people,’ Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, told the Times.
It wasn´t immediately clear whether Tesla would appeal the decision. An email from The Associated Press seeking comment from Tesla wasn´t immediately returned Monday night.
Melvin Berry, 47, was awarded $1million in May after he sued for discrimination at the same plant
The Tesla plant in Fremont has been described as a ‘hotbed of racial behavior’ by former employees
Ten thousand of Tesla’s 80,000 global employees work at the plant in Fremont, San Franciso
Tesla CEO Elon Musk was criticized on Twitter after announcing that Juneteenth would be recognized as a Holiday both at Tesla and SpaceX but only if employees used a vacation day
However, Tesla previously denied any knowledge of the alleged racist conduct at the plant, which has about 10,000 workers.
If upheld, the award would be a blow to a company that has been subject to various allegations of workplace problems but requires employees to resolve disputes through mandatory arbitration, which the firm has rarely lost.
Diaz, who was contracted through a staffing agency, didn´t have to sign an arbitration agreement.
In May, an arbitrator ordered Tesla to pay more than $1 million over similar allegations by another former Fremont factory worker.
Melvin Berry, 47, was awarded the discrimination victory by arbitrator Elaine Rushing, a former judge with over two decades of experience, after a closed-door proceeding on May 12.
The ruling capped years of complaints from black workers that the electric car giant turned a deaf ear to the use of racial slurs on the assembly line and was slow to clean up graffiti with swastikas and other hate symbols scrawled in common areas at its Fremont, California, plant.
Arbitration rulings are usually kept secret, but Rushing agreed to Berry’s lawyer’s request to make it public.
The decision in favor of Berry and make it public was described as rare by Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment lawyer who wasn’t involved in the case.
Palefsky told Bloomberg: ‘Racial discrimination awards are rare and it seems this was especially hard fought,’ he said. Rushing ‘was clearly troubled by the facts, culture at the company and the tone of the defense.’
Berry said he suffered from insomnia, panic attacks, depression and anxiety
Berry, of Antioch, California, was hired by Tesla in 2015 as a materials handler. He quit less than 18 months later when a supervisor gave him longer shifts and made him push a heavier cart after Berry complained about being called the N-word, his lawsuit claimed.
Tesla said in 2017, when Berry’s case had just started, that they were ‘absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind.’
The company said it had fired thee people after an investigation in the case, but according to a sworn declaration in that suit, the N-word had been used no less than 100 times and employees called the plant ‘the plantation’ or ‘slaveship.’
Still, Tesla offered Berry only $148 because he left the job voluntarily. Part of Tesla’s evidence in the case was a letter a supervisor had written of Berry slacking at work.
The letter, Rushing noted, had been written by a 23-year-old white man with a high-school education supervising the then-43-year-old Berry, who has a college degree.
Rushing decried the missive as ‘a classic invitation for serious resentment.’
Berry said he suffered from insomnia, panic attacks, depression and anxiety and had to seek psychological help because he was questioning his sanity.
He received $266,278.50 in damages, including $100,000 to compensate for emotional distress, of the $1.02 million settlement.
Since 2014, more than 145 complaints have been filed with the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination at Tesla on the basis of race, age, gender, disability, medical leave, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and national origin.
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