From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Jury Orders Tesla to Pay $137 Million to a Former Worker Over Racist Treatment.
Date October 17, 2021 12:55 AM
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[“It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in
America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its
factory for Black people,” ] [[link removed]]

JURY ORDERS TESLA TO PAY $137 MILLION TO A FORMER WORKER OVER RACIST
TREATMENT.  
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Niraj Chokshi
October 4, 2021
New York Times
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_ “It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in
America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its
factory for Black people,” _

Owen Diaz, right, with his son, Demetric, at their home in Vallejo,
Calif., Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

 

A federal jury in San Francisco has ordered Tesla
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to pay nearly $137 million to a Black elevator operator who accused
the carmaker of ignoring racial abuse he faced while working at the
automaker’s factory.

The plaintiff, Owen Diaz, said he worked at the factory in Fremont,
Calif., for about a year in 2015 and 2016. There, he said, a
supervisor and other colleagues repeatedly referred to him using
racial slurs. He gave an account of his experience in a 2018 article
in The New York Times
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In an interview on Monday evening, Mr. Diaz said he was relieved by
the jury’s verdict, delivered earlier in the day. “It took four
long years to get to this point,” he said. “It’s like a big
weight has been pulled off my shoulders.”

He said employees had drawn swastikas and scratched a racial epithet
in a bathroom stall and left drawings of derogatory caricatures of
Black children around the factory. Despite repeated complaints, the
company did little to address the behavior, he said.

“It’s not like they were removing the offensive behavior; they
would just let people keep adding and adding,” he said.

The jury agreed with Mr. Diaz’s assertion that Tesla
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had created a hostile work environment by failing to address the
racism he faced. A vast majority of the award — $130 million — was
punitive damages against the company. The rest, $6.9 million, was for
past and future noneconomic damages to Mr. Diaz.

“It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in
America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its
factory for Black people,” Mr. Diaz’s lawyer, Lawrence Organ of
the California Civil Rights Law Group, said in an interview.

Mr. Diaz said he had reached a breaking point when he witnessed
similar racist epithets directed at his son, Demetric, who secured a
job — his first — at the company with Mr. Diaz’s help.

“My son watched his father being broken in front of him,” Mr. Diaz
said.

In a message to Tesla staff members
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posted on the company’s website, Valerie Capers Workman, a human
resources executive, noted that Mr. Diaz was a contractor, not a Tesla
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employee, and played down the allegations in the lawsuit.

“In addition to Mr. Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla
contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard
racial slurs (including the N-word) on the Fremont factory floor,”
she wrote. “While they all agreed that the use of the N-word was not
appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time
they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and
usually by African-American colleagues.”

The company, she wrote in the email, was responsive to Mr. Diaz’s
complaints, firing two contractors and suspending another. Tesla does
not believe the facts justify the verdict, she wrote, but acknowledges
that the company was “not perfect” in 2015 and 2016. “We’re
still not perfect,” she added. “But we have come a long way.”

Mr. Diaz sued Tesla alongside his son and another Black former
employee, but only the elder Mr. Diaz’s claims made it to trial. It
was not clear whether Tesla planned to appeal the verdict and the
damages award.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Niraj Chokshi covers the business of transportation, with a focus on
autonomous vehicles, airlines and logistics. @nirajc
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