‘Do Better Tesla’: Former Employee Awarded $136M In Suit Against Tesla, Citing Racial Aggressions and Workplace Hostility Toward Black Employees

Tesla Inc. is shelling out even more money for its continued lack of action to halt racist behaviors and workplace hostility impacting its employees of color. 

The company’s latest payout was an unprecedented $136.9 million to former employee Owen Diaz.

Diaz, a Black man, worked at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California, for a year. On Monday, Oct. 4, a federal judge granted the multimillion dollar award after a jury found Diaz’s claims of racial workplace hostility to be valid

Owen Diaz was awarded almost $137 million after suing his former employer, Tesla, for turning a blind eye to racial harassment at its Fremont, California, factory. (Photo: Owen Diaz/Daily Beast)

Diaz says while working at the plant, from 2015 to 2016, he was called racial epithets by supervisors and taunted by drawings of racist caricatures on factory walls. 

“Employees had drawn swastikas and scratched a racial epithet in a bathroom stall and left drawings of derogatory caricatures of Black children around the factory,” Diaz told The New York Times.

The former employee added he had “supervisors telling me, ‘N—-r, hurry up and push the button’; ‘N—-r, push these batteries out of the elevator.’ And they were also telling me, ‘N—–s aren’t s—t.’”

In the suit, Diaz said despite reporting the incidents to human resources, the company did little to nothing to address the racial hostility. An internal letter to staff from Tesla’s HR vice president , Valerie Capers Workman, attempted to discredit his claims of the N-word being used in a racially motivated way at the factory. 

“In addition to Mr. Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the N-word) on the Fremont factory floor,” Workman wrote. “While they all agreed that the use of the N-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues.”

Workman also stated the factory terminated two contractors and suspended a third who were alleged perpetrators of the racially motivated behaviors. Diaz said even those actions were not enough to change the culture at Tesla. “It’s not like they were removing the offensive behavior, they would just let people keep adding and adding,” he said. 

A Tesla factory (Tesla.com)

In the end, a jury sided with Diaz. His award is broken down with $130 million going toward punitive damage and the remaining $6.9 million for compensatory damages. 

“It took four long years to get to this point. It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders,” Diaz said. His attorney, Lawrence Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, added, “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.”

Online, Tesla has been on the receiving end of criticism for allowing the alleged racial taunting. “This guy deserves it but what a huge payout. Its crazy to me that such a big company like Tesla would ignore this abuse but I think it speaks volumes to their culture and how little they care for their employees”

“Why not just have a better work environment instead of throwing money at people after the fact? Do better @tesla”

Diaz’s son, Demetric, landed his first job at the factory, but soon left after experiencing the same racial taunting as his father. He has also filed a suit against the company.

Diaz’s suit is a near mirror of the one filed by former Tesla employee Melvin Berry. The former materials handler, who is also Black, sued the company in 2020, citing racial harassment. His case set a precedence with Berry being awarded $1.02 million.

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