Tesla, the electric vehicle company, has been ordered to pay out close to $137 million (£101 million) to a former employee after supervisors failed to prevent racial abuse.
Owen Diaz, a lift operator who worked with the company’s Fremont factory between 2015-2016, stated he faced harassment and a hostile work environment due to his race.
According to the allegations, Mr. Diaz faced “daily racial epithets” including the “N-word” and detailed how other employees left racist graffiti and drawings around the factory, including swastikas.
Mr. Diaz also told the Court how other staff said he should “go back to Africa”. This treatment and the stress it caused led to “sleepless nights” and also caused the claimant to lose weight, Mr. Diaz claimed.
Overall, he described the work environment that the African-American staff endured at the factory as “straight from the Jim Crow era”.
Despite his various appeals to supervisors, it was found that the senior staff failed to intervene in these situations.
Ultimately, the Judge awarded Diaz $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress.
David Oppenheimer, a clinical professor of law at Berkeley Law, stated that this was “the largest verdict in an individual race discrimination in employment case” in US law.
However, Valerie Capers Workman, VP People at Tesla argued that there were various instances where Tesla stepped in, stating:
The three times that Mr. Diaz did complain about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies: two contractors were fired and one was suspended (who had drawn a racially offensive cartoon).
Mr. Diaz himself testified that he was “very satisfied” with the results of one of the investigations, and he agreed that there was follow-up on each of his complaints.
Despite this, she continued to explain how Tesla has built on HR practices since this time:
The Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today.
Since then, Tesla has added an Employee Relations team, dedicated to investigating employee complaints.
Tesla has added a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team dedicated to ensuring that employees have the equal opportunity to excel at Tesla. And Tesla now has a comprehensive Employee Handbook (replacing the Anti-Handbook Handbook) where all of our HR policies, employee protections, and ways to report issues are published in one easy-to-find online document.
It is currently unknown whether Tesla plan to appeal the decision reached in Court.