For years, my colleagues at Bloomberg News and I have chronicled serious allegations of racial discrimination against black workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, auto plant.
Two cases received widespread attention last year. In August, we learned that Tesla had paid Melvin Berry, a former material handler, $1 million in a rare discrimination conviction by an arbitrator. In October, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded former contract worker Owen Diaz a staggering $137 million. Tesla has appealed the latter decision and a federal judge has signaled that he will likely reduce the award amount.
California’s civil rights regulator, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, receives complaints from workers across the state, including hundreds about Tesla, we learned last week.
The way news of the regulator’s lawsuit unfolded was a prime example of Tesla’s aggressive and dismissive attitude. attitude toward government agencies, as well as the company’s penchant for preemptively trying to control news cycles and stories. Here’s a quick recap of how it all went:
According to the lawsuit, black workers complained about the use of the n-word and other racial slurs as early as 2012. “They complained that swastikas, ‘KKK’, the n-word and other racist writing are engraved on the walls of toilets, toilet cubicles, lunch tables and even factory machinery,” the DFEH states in its complaint. “Managers, supervisors and managers were active participants in and/or witnesses to these racist comments.”
The DFEH alleges that Tesla failed to maintain and provide employment records, paid black workers less and, in some cases, preemptively informed alleged harassers of complaints before launching investigations.
On page 10 of the lawsuit, the DFEH took issue with Tesla’s blog post, suggesting in a footnote that the reference to nearly 50 cases of closed complaints with no finding of misconduct was misleading.
“It’s unclear which administrative complaints Tesla is referring to, but many resulted in an immediate request for the right to sue,” the agency said.
On page 12, DFEH stated in another footnote that, contrary to the blog post, the agency and Tesla employees have raised concerns about workplace practices for years. “They still do, as complaints were filed as recently as 2022,” the agency said.
The events of the past week were reminiscent of how Tesla handled lockdowns at the start of 2020. CEO Elon Musk took hold of an announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom that manufacturers in parts of California could reopen, sending a note to workers who neglected to mention that San Francisco Bay Area counties were leaving restrictions in place. When Alameda County resisted Musk’s plan to resume operations, Tesla sued and then restarted production before obtaining clearance.
In 2018, after Tesla blamed the driver of a Model X running on Autopilot for a fatal crash, the National Transportation Safety Board warned the company not to make statements about the incident while an investigation was in progress. In progress. When the NTSB chairman called to tell Musk that the agency was kicking company representatives out of the investigation, the CEO hung up on him. After Tesla released a statement saying it had withdrawn from the investigation, the NTSB released its own to say it had effectively withdrawn the manufacturer.
Tesla is not responding to media inquiries in the United States, but said in its blog post last week that it would ask the court to stay the case brought by DFEH.
On Wednesday, my colleague Saijel Kishan reported that a major pension fund was increasing the pressure on Tesla. The New York State Common Retirement Fund filed a shareholder resolution this month calling on the automaker to disclose, among other things, the amount it paid in harassment and discrimination-related settlements. .
“Recent developments further underscore the need for Tesla to determine how the company prevents harassment and discrimination against employees,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement sent Monday. by e-mail. “This kind of alleged behavior should never be tolerated.”