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Tesla's Big Problem Keeps Growing

Several Black employees said Tesla ignores claims of racial discrimination in a lawsuit.

Black employees at Tesla ( (TSLA) ) said the company is not preventing racial discrimination and sued the EV automaker for intimidation and harassment, as the number of these lawsuits increases.

The lawsuit includes 15 former or current employees who allege that management at the Fremont, California factory is not preventing harassment.

The Black employees filed a lawsuit in California in state court in Alameda County on June 30 and said they were the targets of numerous derogatory comments, racial slurs and racially-motivated harassment at the plant.

The defendants includes dozens of Tesla employees and although CEO Elon Musk is not one of them, he is mentioned in one of the allegations.

The employees said their co-workers often used the N-word and other racist words such as plantation or slavery to discuss the work culture in Fremont.

Racist graffiti on lockers, bathroom walls, benches and workstations that had the words “KKK,” the N-word and drawings of swastikas were not removed by the automaker, the former and current employees said in their lawsuit.

The former and current employees, the plaintiffs, claim that they were given the jobs that were the most physically demanding in Fremont factory. Other employees said they did not receive promotions in a discriminatory pattern.

Employee Alleges She Was Racially and Sexually Harassed

Tesla posted a blog post stating it had a process for investigating complaints about racism and did not take discrimination lightly.

"Tesla has always disciplined and terminated employees who engage in misconduct, including those who use racial slurs or harass others in different ways," the company wrote on February 9. "We recently rolled out an additional training program that reinforces Tesla’s requirement that all employees must treat each other with respect and reminds employees about the numerous ways they can report concerns, including anonymously."

"Above all, Tesla continues to seek to provide a workplace that is safe, respectful, fair, and inclusive­—all of which are vital to achieving our mission."

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A former associate manager at Tesla’s Foster City facility who is Black, Nathaniel Aziel Gonsalves, alleged that he was forced to listen to racist comments from his supervisor, including that he “wasn’t like most black people” and “didn’t act ghetto.”

When a slur was made against a co-worker and Gonsalves reported it, he said his supervisor and other co-workers accused him of “siding with the minorities,” according to the lawsuit.

In April 2021, an employee identified only as “Cory” who worked on solar panels at Musk’s home also made a similar comment to Gonsalves, the lawsuit said. Tesla fired Gonsalves less than two hours after Cory spoke with Musk and no investigation was conducted, the plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit.

Another  former worker, Jasmin Wilson, alleges that she was racially and sexually harassed by both coworkers and managers. Instead of reporting the discrimination, the managers targeted her because of the complaints.

The plaintiffs in the case, Jasmin Wilson v. Tesla Inc., 22CV013603, Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda, are seeking civil penalties and unspecified monetary damages along with a legal order that the automaker improves training to prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation and sets enforcement rules in place.

This complaint falls at the time when the manufacturer of electric vehicles loses its crown of the biggest seller of electric cars in the world. Indeed, it is now the Chinese group BYD Motor, supported by billionaire Warren Buffett, which is the world number 1 in the sector.

The Chinese firm sold 641,350 new energy vehicles in the first six months of the year, from January 1 to June 30, according to company filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Tesla for its part delivered 564,743 vehicles over the same period, including 254,695 units in the second quarter, the firm said on July 2.

Past Discrimination Issues

In 2021, Tesla was ordered to pay Owen Diaz, a Black former contractor, $137 million after he alleged the automaker of ignoring discrimination and racial abuse at its Fremont, California plant. A federal judge later slashed the judgment to $15 million. Diaz said during court testimony that a Tesla supervisor called him the N-word over 30 times.

In January, one of Tesla's highest ranking Black executives, Valerie Capers Workman, resigned as head of human resources. 

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), a civil rights regulator, said in April that Tesla has ignored "rampant racism" at its Fremont factory and left it“unchecked for years” and deemed the plant a “racially segregated workplace."