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A second judge finds Tesla workers at Fremont factory were racially harassed

Ethan Baron, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

A judge has found Black workers faced years of widespread “race harassment” at Tesla’s Fremont electric car factory, opening the door for thousands more claims charging the automaker with mistreatment.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Noël Wise, in a Friday ruling on a lawsuit by Black former Tesla workers, cited more than 500 declarations from Tesla workers who swore under oath that they experienced or observed racial abuse.

Of more than 200 Black workers who gave sworn statements for the lawsuit, about two-thirds said they saw anti-Black graffiti including nooses, racial slurs and swastikas, and about three-quarters said they heard Tesla workers refer to the Fremont plant as “The Plantation” or the “Slave Ship,” according to a court filing. A quarter said higher-ups called them the n-word.

The statements, and others provided to the court by Tesla, “suggest that over a period of approximately eight years Tesla workers in the Fremont factory heard the n-word and otherwise experienced conditions that might reasonably be characterized as race harassment,” Wise wrote.

Bryan Schwartz, an Oakland lawyer representing current and former Black workers in the case, described the judge’s statement as “an incredibly significant finding.”

“Have you ever heard of a similar statement being made about any other employer? I’m not aware of a case where there’s been so many victims of harassment at a single facility over such a long period of time,” Schwartz said.

 

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on the lawsuit and claims in other similar legal actions.

Wise’s determination follows a federal judge’s finding last year of “awful, pervasive racism” at the facility — which makes the company’s Model S, Y, X and 3 cars — and “Tesla’s repeated failure to rectify it.”

Wise’s order approved class-action status for the lawsuit, but ruled that it could not result in Tesla paying damages to affected workers. The court now will try to answer three central questions about how Black workers were treated in the plant, and find out whether there is currently pervasive racial abuse at the facility that needs to be addressed through a court order against Tesla.

The hundreds or thousands of workers who may wish to seek damages from Tesla over their treatment at the factory must file separate, individual lawsuits, and answers to the three questions would “establish common facts” to simplify those cases, Wise wrote.

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