Tesla has been ordered to pay almost $137 million to a Black former worker who said he suffered from racism and a hostile work environment at the company’s San Francisco Bay Area factory. On Monday (Oct. 4), an eight-person jury agreed that Owen Diaz was subjected to racial abuse while working as a contracted employee at Tesla. He has been granted $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million in compensatory damages.
“Owen Diaz stood up to one of the richest companies in the country and the jury heard him and believed him and sent a message to Tesla that what it did was wrong,” said Lawrence Organ, Diaz’s attorney.
Diaz, who worked as a contracted elevator operator, alleged that he was harassed and suffered from “daily racist epithets” while working at Tesla’s Fremont plant in 2015 and 2016.
According to the lawsuit, Diaz claimed workers drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the factory. He also alleged that he regularly heard racial slurs, including the N-word, and supervisors did nothing to stop the abuse. “Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the lawsuit read.
In a blog post on the company website Monday, Valerie Capers Workman, vice president of Tesla, said she believes “these facts don’t justify the verdict” that was reached by the jury. “We do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect,” she said. “But we have come a long way from 5 years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns.”
Tesla previously denied having any knowledge about racist conduct at the plant, which has about 10,000 employees. However, this is not the first time the company has been accused of creating a racially hostile environment. Back in May, Melvin Berry, a former Tesla employee, won a $1 million judgment after a judge ruled that he was called racial slurs by supervisors and subjected to other racially hostile conduct.