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Tesla employees racially harassed black contract workers, lawsuit alleges

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Three former Tesla Inc. contract workers faced racial harassment and discrimination while working at the electric carmaker's Fremont, Calif., factory, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

Plaintiffs Demetric Di-az, his father, Owen Diaz, and Lamar Patterson alleged that they were the targets of "racially motivated abuse, including the frequent use of racial slurs" when they worked at Tesla's factory.

All three men are black and said in the lawsuit that supervisors and co-workers used racial epithets or said things like, "Go back to Africa. We don't want you here." The lawsuit also alleges that Tesla employees and supervisors left racist caricatures and images around the factory for black workers to see.

The three plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that although they complained to Tesla supervisors and to their respective staffing agencies, no one took action. Di-az served as a production associate at the Fremont factory and helped work on the battery manufacturing system for the Model S electric sedan, according to the lawsuit. Diaz and Patterson worked as elevator operators.

A Tesla spokesperson said in a statement that the Palo Alto, Calif., company takes "any and every form of discrimination or harassment extremely seriously" and that the company became aware of the allegations when contacted by media outlets.

"In situations where Tesla is at fault, we will never seek to avoid responsibility," the spokesperson said. "But in this instance, from what we know so far, this does not seem to be such a case."

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, names Tesla as a defendant, along with West Valley Staffing Group, Chartwell Staffing Services Inc. and Citistaff Solutions Inc. The plaintiffs got their contract positions at Tesla through the staffing agencies.

Di-az brought up the alleged abuse to his supervisor in 2015 and, within days, was issued a written warning for using his phone on the production line, the lawsuit says. Within a week, Di-az was terminated for "breaking the rules," though other employees with similar warnings were not fired, according to the lawsuit.

Di-az's father, Diaz, sent an email to a supervisor about a confrontation with another supervisor, whom Diaz had previously approached about his role in the alleged harassment, the lawsuit says. It says Diaz was told that there would be a follow-up, but was never contacted again about the incident.

The suit says Diaz and Patterson quit their jobs at Tesla in 2016 because they were no longer able to bear the "abusive and racially harassing treatment."

Citistaff, which had employed Diaz, and Chartwell, which had employed Patterson, each declined to comment on the allegations Wednesday, saying they had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit yet. West Valley did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In July, Patterson filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing about his experience at Tesla. The agency closed the complaint because Patterson had later requested an authorization to file a lawsuit.

Tesla said that the plaintiffs worked at the company for a short time. The only "somewhat relevant" evidence was an email from Diaz to his supervisor in which Diaz said a coworker was making aggressive comments but made "no mention of the use of any racist language," Tesla said.

The company said it recently launched an online anti-discrimination and harassment training program and set up an employee relations team to investigate workplace concerns.

"We will never be able to stop every single person in the factory from engaging in inappropriate conduct, but we will continue to do everything that we can to encourage the right behavior and to take action whenever something bad happens," Tesla said.

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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