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Tesla ordered to pay over $130m to former worker after racism lawsuit

A jury found the employee was subject to a racially hostile work environment

A federal jury has ordered Tesla to pay over $130 million in damages to a former worker after it found he was subject to a racially hostile work environment.

The jury found that Tesla failed to prevent contract worker Owen Diaz, who worked at the company’s Fremont factory in California in 2015 and 2016 as an elevator operator, from being racially harassed, according to the Wall Street Journal. The jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages.

In a blog post, Tesla argued that there “was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used towards Mr. Diaz” and that the three times Diaz did complain about harassment, Tesla made sure responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies, resulting in two contractors fired and one suspended.

Tesla stated that while it strongly believes that the facts it mentions in its post don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, it recognises that in 2015 and 2016 it wasn’t perfect. The company underlined that since Diaz worked at the Fremont factory, Tesla has established an employee relations team and a diversity, equity and inclusion team to deal with employee complaints. 

“We acknowledge that we still have work to do to ensure that every employee feels that they can bring their whole self to work at Tesla,” said Valerie Capers Workman, VP of People, in the post.

The WSJ also reported that before the trial began, presiding judge William Orrick rejected efforts by Tesla to exclude one juror from the jury, saying he believed the attempt was based on race and "purposefully discriminatory."

In March, Google Cloud’s HR department allegedly told an employee to take mental health leave when they disclosed an incident of racial discrimination, without taking action against the accused. The company’s former instructional designer, Benjamin Cruz, was one of 10 employees told to take mental health leave after they reported having faced discriminatory conduct while working at the company.

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