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Business News/ Companies / News/  US agency files lawsuit against Tesla over alleged harassment of Black factory workers
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US agency files lawsuit against Tesla over alleged harassment of Black factory workers

US civil rights agency sues Tesla over persistent harassment of Black employees at its California plant.

FILE - Twitter, now X. Corp, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool, File) (AP)Premium
FILE - Twitter, now X. Corp, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool, File) (AP)

A civil rights agency in the United States has filed a lawsuit against Tesla Inc. The lawsuit alleges that Tesla has allowed the persistent harassment of Black employees at its main assembly plant in Fremont, California. These allegations closely resemble cases brought forward by both the state and Tesla's own employees.

As reported by Reuters, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has initiated the lawsuit in a federal court in California. According to the lawsuit, it is claimed that from 2015 to the present, Black workers at the Tesla plant have frequently experienced racist slurs and offensive graffiti, including symbols such as swastikas and nooses.

According to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC, Tesla has neglected to properly investigate complaints regarding racist behaviour and has taken actions such as terminating or retaliating against employees who reported harassment. This lawsuit introduces federal charges in addition to the discrimination claims brought by the state of California and lawsuits filed by Tesla employees, Reuters reported.

It follows the breakdown of settlement talks with the EEOC after Tesla announced that the agency had formally raised its concerns last year. The EEOC routinely settles lawsuits with employers, and it is relatively rare for the agency’s cases to go to trial.

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Tesla is currently dealing with multiple race discrimination lawsuits that share similar allegations. These include a class action lawsuit filed by employees at the Fremont plant and a lawsuit brought by a California civil rights agency. In response to these cases, Tesla has stated that it does not condone discrimination and treats workers' complaints with seriousness and concern.

"If the federal government gets involved, it certainly adds credibility to the claims," said Stephen Diamond, a law professor at Santa Clara University, who noted that he has advised investors on social responsibility at Tesla, reported Reuters.

"Major institutional investors like pension funds will be very concerned about this type of behavior," he said.

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The EEOC initiated its investigation into Tesla following an internal complaint, known as a charge, filed against the company by the chair of the five-member commission, Charlotte Burrows.

After determining last year that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Tesla had violated federal laws prohibiting workplace racial discrimination, the agency attempted but was unsuccessful in reaching a settlement agreement with the company, as stated in the lawsuit.

Burrows in a statement said that combating widespread workplace harassment is a key priority for the EEOC.

"Every employee deserves to have their civil rights respected, and no worker should endure the kind of shameful racial bigotry our investigation revealed," she said.

The EEOC’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for an unspecified number of Black workers, along with an order requiring Tesla to overhaul its policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation.

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Tesla is currently facing similar allegations from both the California Civil Rights Department, which is a state-level equivalent of the EEOC, and the EEOC itself. The California Civil Rights Department asserts that Tesla engaged in discriminatory practices against Black employees in areas such as salary determinations, promotions, and job assignments, Reuters noted.

Notably, the department's lawsuit is based on violations of California state law, whereas the EEOC case pertains to analogous federal laws.

Tesla has asserted that the lawsuit brought by the California department was driven by political motivations. The company has also contended that the agency violated state law by initiating legal proceedings without providing prior notice to Tesla about all the allegations or affording the company an opportunity to reach a settlement.

In the previous year, a California judge declined Tesla's request to dismiss the case, and currently, the judge is reviewing multiple matters related to pre-trial discovery in this ongoing legal dispute.

In addition, a Black former elevator operator at the Fremont plant, Owen Diaz, is seeking a third trial in his 2017 lawsuit claiming he was subjected to severe racial harassment after a jury in April awarded him $3.2 million.

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In 2021, a separate jury had initially granted Diaz a substantial award of $137 million. However, a federal judge later deemed this amount to be excessive. In response, Diaz chose to pursue a new trial rather than accepting a reduced award of $15 million.

Additionally, Tesla is currently confronted with a class action lawsuit in a California state court. This lawsuit revolves around allegations of mistreatment of Black factory workers. Approximately 240 workers have expressed their intent to join this legal action.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Published: 29 Sep 2023, 07:52 AM IST
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