WASHINGTON - Tesla Inc.’s production floor is a "hotbed for racist behavior," an African-American employee claimed in a lawsuit in which he alleged black workers at the electric carmaker suffer severe and pervasive harassment.
The employee says he’s one of more than 100 African-American Tesla workers affected and is seeking permission from a judge to sue on behalf of the group. He’s seeking unspecified general and punitive monetary damages as well as an order for Tesla to implement policies to prevent and correct harassment.
"Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, its standard operating procedure at the Tesla factory is pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination," the employee said in the complaint, filed Monday in California’s Alameda County Superior Court.
Tesla has roughly 33,000 employees globally but has never publicly released its diversity statistics. More than 10,000 people work at its sole auto-assembly plant in Fremont, California, where the United Auto Workers have launched a campaign to persuade workers to join the union. On Tesla’s most recent earnings call, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk acknowledged that the company recently fired about 700 workers for low performance.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Marcus Vaughn, who worked in the Fremont factory from April 23 to Oct. 31. Vaughn alleged that employees and supervisors regularly used the “N word” around him and other black colleagues. Vaughn said he complained in writing to human resources and Musk and was terminated in late October for "not having a positive attitude."
Tesla didn’t have an immediate comment on the lawsuit.
Larry Organ, an attorney at the California Civil Rights Law Group, said that Vaughn reached out to him after the law firm sued Tesla on behalf of other African American employees who complained about racial harassment this year.
A Tesla assembly line worker sued in March, claiming the company did little to stop co-workers from harassing him. In August, a judge sent the case to arbitration. A judge also partly granted Tesla’s request to compel arbitration in a case of a woman who sued in November 2016 complaining about pervasive harassment.
According to Monday’s complaint, Musk sent an email to Tesla factory employees on May 31.
“Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group,” Musk wrote in the email. “Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”
“The law doesn’t require you to have a thick skin,” Organ said in an interview Monday. "Tesla is not doing enough. It’s somewhat akin to saying ‘stop being politically correct.’ When you have a diverse workforce, you need to take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workforce."