Tesla sued for ‘severe’ racial harassment at its California factory, again

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Tesla factory in Fremont, California
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Tesla subjected Black employees at its California factory to “severe or pervasive racial harassment” and helped perpetuate a hostile work environment for employees of color, according to a lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Racist slurs and epithets and race-based stereotyping “permeated Tesla’s Fremont Factory subjecting Black employees to racial hostility and offenses,” the agency alleges. Black employees were also fired or subject to retaliation after raising complaints about their treatment, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit includes a lot of the language that was alleged to be used at Tesla’s factory and has also been echoed by former Black employees of the company in their own lawsuits. The EEOC said:

Slurs were used casually and openly in high-traffic areas and at worker hubs. Black employees regularly encountered graffiti, including variations of the N-word, swastikas, threats, and nooses, on desks and other equipment, in bathroom stalls, within elevators, and even on new vehicles rolling off the production line.

Black employees described the prevalence of racist imagery as “frequent,” “constant,” “a regular thing,” and occurring “too many times to count,” according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC’s lawsuit seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, and back pay for the affected workers, as well as injunctive relief designed to reform Tesla’s employment practices to prevent such discrimination in the future.”

The allegations echo those made in a lawsuit against Tesla by a California civil rights agency last year as well as complaints from Black employees at the company’s factory. In October 2021, a jury awarded a Black former Tesla employee $137 million in damages after he accused the company of ignoring rampant racism. (A judge later reduced that award to $15 million.)

The company also paid $1 million to another Black former employee who said he was called the n-word by a supervisor. Tesla currently faces a class action lawsuit alleging racism at its flagship factory.

Tesla first disclosed in a court filing last year that it was under investigation by the EEOC. At the time, the company claimed that it was caught in the middle of a “turf war” between the agency and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which was also suing the company for racial discrimination.