Tesla ordered to pay $137m to Black former employee for racial abuse

California federal court orders company to pay Owen Diaz who alleges he faced ‘daily racial epithets’ including the ‘N-word’

Tesla has been ordered by a federal court in California to pay almost $137m in damages to a Black former employee who said he endured racial abuse while working at a factory in Fremont.

Owen Diaz, a former contracted elevator operator who worked at the plant between 2015 and 2016, alleged he was harassed and faced “daily racial epithets” including the “N-word”. He also said employees drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the plant.

On Monday, a jury in San Francisco sided with Diaz, who was awarded $6.9m in damages for emotional distress and $130m in punitive damages, according to Diaz’s attorney, Lawrence A Organ.

“It took four long years to get to this point,” Diaz told the New York Times. “It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders.”

Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said: “It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people.”

Diaz’s lawsuit claimed that supervisors failed to stop the racial abuse.

“Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African American employees,” the lawsuit stated.

It was not immediately clear if Tesla would appeal but on Monday it issued a statement attempting to downplay the case.

“While we strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect,” wrote Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla’s human resources vice-president.

“But we have come a long way from five years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns. Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable.”

If upheld, the award would be a blow to a company that has been subject to allegations of workplace problems but requires employees to resolve disputes through mandatory arbitration, which the firm rarely loses.

In May, an arbitrator ordered Tesla to pay more than $1m over similar allegations by another former Fremont factory worker. That employee alleged co-workers called him a racial slur and supervisors ignored his complaints.

Diaz was contracted through a staffing agency and did not have to sign an arbitration agreement.


Oliver Laughland and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Former Tesla workers claim they were fired for using maternity and sick leave
Current and former workers also claim point-system attendance policy penalizes employees for use of paid time off

Michael Sainato

09, Jul, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Tesla employee bus crashes into car, killing off-duty officer in California
A bus carrying more than 50 workers of the electric car company rear-ended and crushed a Volkswagen Beetle, killing the law enforcement officer

Sam Levin in San Francisco

12, May, 2017 @5:43 PM

Article image
Tesla factory to be investigated over safety concerns
California base faces claims of unreported injuries as it struggles to roll out Model 3

Samuel Gibbs

19, Apr, 2018 @11:02 AM

Article image
Tesla moves beyond electric cars with new California battery farm
The project is part of Elon Musk’s plan to help transform the power grid

Katie Fehrenbacher

31, Jan, 2017 @7:18 PM

Article image
Tesla seeking to test driver-free electric trucks on public roads
Leaked correspondence with Nevada vehicle regulator reveal Elon Musk’s plans for fully autonomous electric freight

Samuel Gibbs

10, Aug, 2017 @10:55 AM

Article image
Elon Musk reopens California Tesla factory in defiance of lockdown order
CEO announces electric carmaker would begin production Monday following weekend of threats over Covid-19 restrictions

Julia Carrie Wong in Oakland

11, May, 2020 @9:35 PM

Article image
Tesla headquarters will move from California to Texas, Elon Musk says
Boss confirms move after clashes with California officials as Texas governor Greg Abbott welcomes Musk to ‘the land of opportunity and innovation’

Gloria Oladipo in New York and agencies

08, Oct, 2021 @1:40 PM

Article image
Elon Musk v public health: a timeline of the Tesla factory standoff
The billionaire has defied shelter-in-place orders and styled himself as an anti-lockdown hero. This is how we got here

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

13, May, 2020 @6:05 PM

Article image
Tesla email reveals company’s effort to silence an alleged victim with cash
When a worker alleged discrimination, the company sought to keep him quiet: ‘If there is media attention, there will be no deal’

Sam Levin in San Francisco

13, Apr, 2018 @9:37 PM

Article image
Tesla that crashed into police car was in 'autopilot' mode, California official says
If confirmed, it would be the third time a Tesla in autopilot has crashed into a stationary emergency vehicle this year

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

29, May, 2018 @11:45 PM