April 21, 2022

Update: Judge Finds Tesla Liable To Black Former Worker Who Alleged Bias, But Slashes Payout

A federal judge said last week that Tesla Inc was liable to a Black elevator operator who said the electric car company ignored racial abuse at the factory where he worked but the judge has now reduced a nearly $137 million jury award to $15 million.

William Orrick, US District Judge in San Francisco, ruled after jurors found that Tesla subjected Owen Diaz to a hostile environment at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California by allowing and failing to stop the racism he faced.

Diaz, first hired through a recruitment agency, worked as a freight elevator operator between June 2015 and July 2016 at the manufacturer’s Fremont plant in the San Francisco Bay area and according to documents, during his tenure, he suffered racist slurs, including the “n-word” and a hostile work environment.

We reported on this matter here:

In a 43-page decision, Orrick said the evidence amply supported the jury’s finding Tesla liable for the “profound” emotional harm Diaz suffered and the “often inadequate” disciplinary steps the company took, reported Reuters.

But the judge decided to reduce Diaz’s compensatory damages to $1.5 million from the “excessive” $6.9 million that the jury awarded, and lowered punitive damages to $13.5 million from the “unconstitutionally large” $130 million jury award.

Bernard Alexander, a lawyer for Diaz, in an interview with Reuters said his client plans to appeal the lowered damages award. “We’re pleased that the court upheld the jury’s finding that Tesla’s conduct was absolutely reprehensible,” Alexander said.

“The award of $15 million is substantial but does not come close to reflecting the harm caused to Mr. Diaz, or the reprehensibility of Tesla’s conduct,” he added.

Tesla previously called that lawsuit misguided and said it has adopted policies to prevent and punish racist conduct.

POCIT previously reached out for comment and did not get a response.

What else is happening?

Tesla has asked a California judge to pause another lawsuit against the company alleging widespread racial discrimination at its flagship assembly plant.

In a filing in state court in Oakland, Tesla revealed that it is also being investigated by a different civil rights agency into similar allegations, accusing both agencies of conducting a “turf war.” The news was first reported by Reuters.

Tesla’s lawyers also said California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing conducted a “bare-bones investigation” before suing, and did not share many worker complaints with the company until after the lawsuit was filed.

The company added that DFEH violated a state law requiring the agency to take various steps before suing an employer.

When contacted the department did not immediately comment.

Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.