Tesla Inc. moved to federal court a suit by a former Oregon State football player who alleges he faced racial discrimination and was fired from a store management position with the car maker after appearing in an ad for Audi during the 2020 Super Bowl.
Naymon Frank filed the suit in state court in Los Angeles County, alleging that Elon Musk made the decision to terminate him after he appeared in the ad.
Frank, who is Black, alleges he was subjected to racial discrimination throughout his employment with Tesla, including being passed over for promotion at least four times and being subjected to “racially based comments and insults.”
He asserts he was “the only African-American manager at Tesla during the time he was employed, throughout the entire company.”
Tesla removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Wednesday, saying Frank fraudulently named his manager, Suzie Hatzis, as a defendant in order to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction.
Both Frank and Hatzis are California residents, while Tesla was organized and formed under Delaware law, with its principal place of business and headquarters in Texas.
Frank alleges that the reason given for asking him to resign or be terminated—that appearing in an Audi e-tron commercial was a conflict of interest—was a pretext.
Management knew “that Frank had requested and was given permission by Tesla management to appear in the Audi e-tron commercial,” the complaint alleges.
Frank “lost a significant amount of money in stock benefits” because he was “wrongfully constructively terminated before his stock options fully vested at four years of employment with TESLA,” according to the complaint.
The Audi e-tron commercial aired during the Super Bowl on Jan. 31, 2020. On Feb. 1, 2020, management told Frank he would be fired if he didn’t resign, according to the complaint.
Frank played defensive tackle for Oregon State from 2004 to 2007. He began working for Tesla Aug. 15, 2016.
Bohm Wildish & Matsen LLP represents Frank.
Tesla is represented by in-house counsel.
The case is Frank v. Tesla Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 22-cv-01590, 3/9/22.