Equal Employment Commission sues Tesla for racist discrimination, retaliation at Fremont plant
Like some sort of bizarro greatest hits album, the EEOC case sounds just like multiple previous suits
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Tesla alleging "widespread and ongoing racial harassment of Black employees," at the company's Fremont, California plant.
The 10-page lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California yesterday is packed to the brim with allegations that will sound distressingly familiar to Fremont plant employees who filed previous lawsuits against Tesla alleging much of the same.
"Racial slurs [various forms of the N-word] as well as racist epithets and race-based stereotyping permeated Tesla's Fremont Factory subjecting Black employees to racial hostility and offenses," the EEOC alleges in its lawsuit.
Employees at Tesla's Fremont plant ranging from temps all the way up to managers were guilty of the behavior, the EEOC claims, to the point where it was "frequent, ongoing … and occurred across all shifts, departments and positions."
Along with verbal abuse, Black Fremont Tesla employees said in the suit they had also encountered racist graffiti on a variety of surfaces including desks, in elevators, on bathroom stalls, and even on vehicles coming off the assembly line.
The complaint says Tesla was made aware of the incidents on multiple occasions by Black employees, but claims "supervisors and managers … failed or refused to intercede." Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Tesla refused to take steps to address the issues, failed to investigate complaints and didn't adopt policies to prevent such behavior.
The EEOC went on to allege that rather than respond to complaints, Tesla retaliated against those that reported racist incidents, with the complaint claiming it changed their schedules, reassigned them, wrote them up for minor infractions and in some cases fired them outright.
"Throughout the Relevant period, Tesla knew or should have known about aforementioned slurs, insults graffiti and misconduct," the EEOC says. The commission accuses Tesla of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination on the job based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin.
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"When you let a standard slip, you've set a new standard," said EEOC San Francisco District office director Nancy Sienko in a statement. "Determining that prolific racial slurs do not merit serious discipline and failing to correct harassing conduct sends an entirely wrong message to employees. It also violates an employer's legal responsibility to act swiftly and effectively to stop race-based harassment," Sienko said.
The lawsuit seeks to enjoin Tesla from engaging in racial harrasment and creating a hostile work environment, and is also seeking compensation for those affected.
The EEOC says in the complaint it had only filed the lawsuit after failing to get Tesla to agree to conciliation that would have settled the matter out of court. It adds that "the Commission was unable to secure from Tesla a conciliation agreement acceptable to the commission."
Tesla didn't respond to our requests for comment.
Tesla's Fremont plant has been the subject of a number of cases alleging racist behavior from Tesla staff.
In 2017, Tesla Fremont employee DeWitt Lambert, a Black man, accused Tesla of commonplace racial abuse that he claimed the company did nothing to stop after he complained about it. Lambert joined Tesla in June 2015, only days after the relevant period in the EEOC's case began (May 29, 2015).
Lambert claimed his harassers had been promoted while denying Lambert promotions, instead transferring him to a different production line where the bad behavior continued. Tesla disputed Lambert's claims, accusing him of trying to extort the company.
Lambert isn't alone: A group of 15 current and former Tesla employees from the Fremont factory sued Tesla last year alleging similar issues, and in April former Tesla contract worker Owen Diaz, also Black, was awarded $3 million to settle racial discrimination complaints originating at Fremont.
We asked the EEOC if previous litigants are involved in this new case, but the Commission declined to comment.
"Today's lawsuit makes clear that no company is above the law, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal civil rights protections to help ensure American workplaces are free from unlawful harassment and retaliation," said EEOC chair Charlotte Burrows. ®