Tesla ordered to pay over $3 million to ex-worker in racism case

An aerial photo shows the Tesla Fremont factory in Fremont, California on February 10, 2022.

Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

A federal jury in San Francisco has ordered Tesla to pay $3 million in punitive damages and $1[ads1]75,000 in non-pecuniary damages to Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at the company’s factory in Fremont, California, after he experienced a racially hostile work environment during of its time. at the company.

Diaz, a black man, was hired as a contract worker at Tesla in 2015 through a staffing agency.

He was previously awarded a $137 million judgment in 2021, including punitive damages, after a jury determined that Diaz had suffered civil rights violations at Tesla and that the electric car maker failed to take all reasonable steps to end and prevent the racial harassment.

Diaz and Tesla sought a new trial to determine damages after Judge William H. Orrick reduced the amount to $15 million.

A distraught and at times tearful Diaz told the court again last week how his colleagues at Tesla used racial epithets to demean him and other black workers, made him feel physically unsafe at work, told him to “go back to Africa” and left racist. graffiti on the toilets and a racist drawing in his workplace.

The drawing left at his workplace was a rudimentary one resembling Inki the Caveman, a cartoon from the 1950s considered racist, whose main character is a black boy portrayed with big lips, wearing a loincloth, earrings and a bone through his hair .

Diaz also testified that although he had encouraged his son to work at Tesla, he now considers it one of the biggest regrets of his life because his son was also exposed to a racially hostile workplace there.

The attorney for the plaintiff, Bernard Alexander of Morrison Alexander & Fehr, urged the jury in his closing arguments to hold Tesla responsible for failing to stop and prevent racial harassment of employees, and for the suffering Diaz has endured.

“No black man in 2015 should ever be subjected,” Alexander said, “to this plantation mentality workplace.”

Alexander also urged the jurors to decide on damages in an amount that “will get Tesla’s attention.” He characterized Tesla as a company that must accuse others of lying because they cannot explain why they would allow violations of the Civil Rights Act at their factory.

The plaintiffs asked the jury to assess around $150 million in punitive damages for Tesla, and award Diaz $6.3 million in past non-pecuniary damages, and $2 million in future non-pecuniary damages.

Tesla’s lawyer Alex Spiro argued that Diaz should only be awarded damages of about half his salary, some tens of thousands of dollars, not millions. Diaz had not disclosed his salary during the trial, Judge William Orrick said amid Spiro’s closing arguments last week Friday.

Spiro also told jurors on Friday that Diaz “lied to you.” He characterized the former Tesla contract worker as a confrontational person, who repeatedly exaggerated problems in his testimony. Diaz had previously misrepresented the number of months he had worked at Tesla, Spiro said. Spiro also accused Diaz of lying about his ailments to a doctor in order to demand greater financial compensation from the company.

Invoking the Civil Rights Act, Diaz’s lawyer asked jurors to make an example of Tesla, saying “Do justice and justice is not cheap.”

Tesla has been sued more than 200 times by current or former contractors and employees since 2018 in the United States, according to legal database Plainsite. This figure does not take into account disputes that have gone to arbitration. As CNBC previously reported, where it is legal to do so, Tesla has forced employees to agree to mandatory arbitration.

Last week, a former Tesla service manager, a black man named John Goode, filed a lawsuit in Northern California alleging that a white man who was his manager in Georgia repeatedly made racist remarks in his presence, was racially biased against him and another black colleague. , had him fired on false pretenses in retaliation after Goode objected to this treatment.

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