Last month, after a three-year investigation, the California Department of Employment and Fair Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Tesla, alleging its Fremont auto factory is rife with racism targeting black workers. Now, new reporting shares the stories of former employees who claim to have experienced harassment, underlining the apparent seriousness of the situation.
The personal stories related to the Los Angeles Times by three former employees echo the accusations in the DFEH lawsuit, including the frequent use of the “N word,” other race-based harassment, and seeming retaliation against those making complaints. For its part, the electric automaker has denied the specific allegations made by the individuals to the Los Angeles Times.
Tesla also defended itself in February against the allegations made in the State agency’s lawsuit. In a blog post titled “The DFEH’s Misguided Lawsuit,” it stated it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment” and that it not only has a Employee Relations team that responds to all types of complaints, but that it also has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team.
A report published by that DEI team states that 10 percent of the Tesla US workforce is black and minorities make up the majority. However, it also says that blacks hold only four percent of leadership positions, while whites make up a strong majority (59%) of that group.
The blog post raises the point that DFEH had been contacted almost fifty times over a span of five years with complaints of discrimination or harassment, but seemingly dismisses the grievances because the civil rights’ agency closed the cases without any legal action against the company. Tesla also claims DEFEH has not provided it with “the specific allegations or the factual bases for its lawsuit.”
In a separate article, Insider describes how a litany of lawsuits alleging harassment based on race and gender have been filed over the past five years, and relays personal accounts from a number of individuals involved in those actions. Tesla, it says, has relied on private arbitration – a practice used by other automakers as well – to help keep settlement details from becoming public.
Although most of the discrimination lawsuits against Tesla have failed, there has been one notable award. A former Tesla contractor was granted $137 million from the company by a federal jury in October 2021 (Tesla is appealing that settlement amount).
Out of 90 arbitration complaints filed against the company since 2016, only one has been successful so far. That case resulted in a $1 million reward for a former worker.
Tesla is not the only automaker with incidents or allegations of racial discrimination. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed an earlier decision, reviving an action against Ford for a former worker’s allegations of racial and sexual harassment.
A Fiat Chrysler subcontractor employee was fired in 2018 after a noose was found at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Complex. The next year, another noose was spotted at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. The woman who reported it was initially fired, ostensibly for posting a video of it on social media, but was later reinstated.
In 2018, a number of employees launched a lawsuit against General Motors after a number of disturbing racially-motivated incidents, including nooses left at work stations.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, Insider
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