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What is the California Lawsuit Against Tesla All About?

Author
Amanda Turner
August 11, 2022

Many people have opinions about Elon Musk and Tesla, but the pending lawsuit against the mogul’s futuristic car company attacks issues far more serious than the sometimes-outlandish ideas posted on the icon’s Twitter page. The State of California has alleged that Tesla has committed multiple counts of harassment and discrimination against Black employees. The lawsuit stems from an investigation that occurred at a Tesla assembly plant in Fremont, California. According to the lawsuit, Black workers were relegated to the lowest part of the workforce and were racially segregated from white employees. 

What Happened at Tesla?

According to the lawsuit filed against Tesla by the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Tesla treated African American and Black employees unfairly–in a variety of ways. The lawsuit states that over a three-year investigation period, many discriminatory and harassing events occurred within the company, including the use of racist language, discriminatory drawings, and unequal treatment of Black and white employees (including denying Black employees equal pay to their white counterparts). 

According to the lawsuit, "These numerous complaints by Black and/or African American workers about racial harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation lodged over a span of almost a decade have been futile. Tesla has continued to deflect and evade responsibility. While it claims to not tolerate racial harassment or discrimination at its factories, Tesla's investigations of complaints are not compliant with the law."

"...over a three-year investigation period, many discriminatory and harassing events occurred within the company, including the use of racist language, discriminatory drawings, and unequal treatment of Black and white employees"

Tesla: Turning a Blind Eye

The alleged acts of racial harassment and discrimination against Tesla are serious. According to the lawsuit, graffiti is a common problem at Tesla, and the company is slow to clean up racist material. Some graffiti noted by the investigation against the company included the N-word, KKK, and other hate speech and symbols. It took several months for the company to remove such graffiti. 

In addition to these allegations, the Tesla factory was often referred to as “the plantation.” White employees were given work that was less physically demanding than the work given to Black employees. The lawsuit also states that Black employees were required to clean the floor of the factory by scrubbing on their hands and knees, while white employees were not required to complete such work. 

The lawsuit states that this type of harassment and discrimination was ongoing within the company. Employees of the company complained about upper-level management using the N-word.

The Company’s Response

According to Tesla, the lawsuit is unfair. In response to the lawsuit filed by the State of California, Tesla stated, “Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints," Tesla writes. "Tesla has always disciplined and terminated employees who engage in misconduct, including those who use racial slurs or harass others in different ways."

According to the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, they tried to reach out to Tesla to settle the issue without going to court. Tesla refused. The company said that the lawsuit is unfair.

The State of California has received hundreds of complaints from Black workers at Tesla regarding unfair and discriminatory treatment. A surface-level glance at upper-level management at Tesla’s headquarters shows that Black people are underrepresented in the top ranks of the business. 

California Equal Pay Act

California’s Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 2015. This law requires that employees who perform similar work receive equal pay, and states that companies cannot retaliate against employees who make a complaint stating that they’re not being paid fairly.

At Tesla, employees who tried to complain about the way they were being treated have stated that they were treated unfairly after sharing their concerns. While this is illegal, it also made it difficult for employees who were experiencing discrimination, segregation, and harassment to get the help that they needed to get the fair pay they deserved.

While Tesla is currently receiving massive media attention due to the lawsuit, it’s not the only company that has been put under fire for unfair treatment of employees. Riot Games, a gaming tech company, was forced to pay out over $100 million due to a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of gender discrimination. Online retail giant Amazon was hit with a similar lawsuit and had to pay out $300,000 and $2.5 million in legal fees to a single plaintiff.

"At Tesla, employees who tried to complain about the way they were being treated have stated that they were treated unfairly after sharing their concerns."

Have You Experienced Unfair Pay While Working in California? You’re Not Alone.

If you’ve experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace that has resulted in lower pay due to your race, ethnicity, or gender, you’re not alone. It can feel frustrating when the people you trust to pay you for your work treat you unfairly, and you may be unsure of where to turn next.

We’re here to help. If you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, you may be entitled to compensation. Reach out to us today to talk with one of our specialists about a free case evaluation.

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