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Tesla Must Face California’s ‘Rampant’ Workplace Racism Suit (1)

Aug. 24, 2022, 12:17 AM

Tesla Inc. can’t escape a lawsuit by California’s civil rights regulator accusing the electric-vehicle maker of fostering racial discrimination and harassment at its San Francisco Bay Area factory.

A state court judge on Tuesday tentatively denied the company’s request to throw out the complaint by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which described the Fremont plant as a “racially segregated workplace.”

The agency said it saw complaints from hundreds of Black workers and uncovered evidence of them being subjected to mistreatment, including harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation, at Tesla’s Fremont plant during a three-year investigation.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. It said it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment” and called the DFEH suit “misguided” in a blog post before the complaint was filed.

The company will have a chance at a hearing set for Wednesday to convince Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to change his ruling before making it final.

The DFEH’s racial harassment claims were “uncertain, ambiguous, and unintelligible,” Tesla’s attorneys contended in court filings. But Grillo said in his preliminary ruling that allegations in DFEH’s suit “are adequately specific.”

Black workers at Tesla complained to the DFEH about hearing racial slurs as often as 50 to 100 times a day and spotting racist graffiti on restroom walls, work stations, lunch tables and other areas, the agency said in its complaint. In addition, Black workers were paid less than their non-Black counterparts for substantially similar work, according to the suit.

A former contractor for Tesla who won a $137 million jury verdict over racist abuse at the factory is headed for a retrial against the company after disagreeing with a judge who said the award should be reduced to $15 million.

The case is Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Tesla Inc., 22CV006830, California Superior Court, Alameda County.

(Updates with details from ruling and background)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Malathi Nayak in San Francisco at mnayak21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Peter Blumberg

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.