Ex-Tesla Worker Declines $15M Award in Race Bias Case

Black Tesla Vehicle
A late model Tesla

Owen Diaz — the former contract elevator operator who won a $137 million jury verdict in a racial abuse lawsuit against Tesla has turned down a $15 million award after the original judgment was cut down by the judge. According to an NBC News report, Diaz and his attorneys declined the award saying that it would not deter Tesla from future misconduct. Owen Diaz, who was hired in 2015 via a staffing agency, was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, a federal jury in San Francisco decided. The award is among the most significant verdicts of all time.

Owen Diaz, right, and his son, Demetric Diaz, in Oakland, California, in 2018. Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman (a Black attorney), sent an internal email that the company subsequently published in a blog post on its website titled “Regarding Today’s Jury Verdict.” Workman wrote she was “at the defense table for Tesla every day during the trial because I wanted to hear firsthand what Mr. Diaz said happened to him.” The post said that “the Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today.”

The rejection means that Diaz will likely be granted a new trial. 

Tesla’s Fremont, California manufacturing plant is facing several racial-based lawsuits. As previously reported by theGrio, The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ‘DFEH’ is suing Tesla for alleged racial discrimination and harassment. 

“After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion, creating a hostile work environment,” Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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Moreover, “Black and/or African American workers are assigned to more physically demanding posts and the lowest-level contract roles, paid less and more often terminated from employment than other workers. They have also complained that Black and/or African American workers are often denied advancement opportunities, and more often and more severely disciplined than non-Black workers.”

Leaders and high-level employees were said to have repeatedly used “the n-word and other racial slurs to refer to Black workers.” There were also times during working hours when swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word, and other racist terms were written on walls of the restrooms, inside the stalls, lunchroom tables, and even factory machinery,” says the report from the DFEH, per previous reporting. 

Allegations of racial discrimination at Tesla’s US facilities aren’t new. The company has been hit with several discrimination lawsuits from employees over similar allegations in recent years. But filed by a government agency, the new suit may have far wider implications.

Photo courtesy of Alisa Reutova from Unsplash

Retaliation was also a major issue, “A common narrative was Black and/or African American workers being taunted by racial slurs and then baited into verbal and physical confrontations, where they, in turn, were the ones disciplined for being purportedly ‘aggressive’ or ‘threatening,’” the suit claimed. “These written warnings in their personnel files had consequences for later promotional and professional opportunities.”

Tesla has denied all the allegations against them, saying earlier year, “Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints.”

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