Black workers at Tesla’s Fremont factory were paid less than white workers, denied advancements, and faced daily racist abuse, including a noose drawn in a bathroom next to a reference to lynching and a racial slur, a lawsuit by California’s civil-rights regulator claims.
“As early as 2012, Black and/or African American Tesla workers have complained that Tesla production leads, supervisors, and managers constantly use the n-word and other racial slurs to refer to Black workers,” the suit filed Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court alleged. “They have complained that swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word, and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables, and even factory machinery. They have complained that Black and/or African American workers are assigned to more physically demanding posts and the lowest-level contract roles, paid less, and more often terminated from employment than other workers. They have also complained that Black and/or African American workers are often denied advancement opportunities, and more often and more severely disciplined than non-Black workers.”
Workers also displayed “racially incendiary” Confederate flag tattoos to intimidate Black colleagues, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s suit claimed.
“A common narrative was Black and/or African American workers being taunted by racial slurs and then baited into verbal and physical confrontations, where they, in turn, were the ones disciplined for being purportedly ‘aggressive’ or ‘threatening,'” the suit claimed. “These written warnings in their personnel files had consequences for later promotional and professional opportunities.”
Although the suit refers to Tesla’s three manufacturing facilities in the US, the claims focus on the factory in Fremont beside I-880 where the $950 billion, publicly-traded company makes electric cars. Tesla, which recently moved its headquarters from Palo Alto to Texas, is fighting a slew of lawsuits by Black workers and former workers claiming it failed to adequately respond to racism and sexual harassment in its facilities, including at its parts plant in Lathrop near Tracy.
Department of Fair Employment and Housing director Kevin Kish said in a statement that the suit was based on hundreds of complaints from workers.
Tesla’s “US Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report” from December 2020 — which does not include data on its thousands of contract workers — says 10% of employees are Black, 21% are Asian, 22% are Latino and 34% are white. In leadership roles, 4% are Black, 4% are Latino, 25% are Asian and 59% are white, according to the report. Among new hires, 12% are Black, and 10% of promotions go to Black employees, the report said.
Complaints about racism in the electric car maker’s operations were filed as recently as this year, the suit said. Black workers who complained about racism were denied bonuses and promotions, and “falsely accused of being late, unjustifiably written up, denied transfers, assigned to physically strenuous posts or undesirable locations, constructively discharged, or terminated,” the suit alleged.
Regional NAACP president Rick Callender said in a statement that people of color face daily discrimination in work and life. “The Department of Fair Employment and Housing should be applauded for seeking justice against Tesla for their racist behavior,” Callender said.
Tesla, led by CEO Elon Musk, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims.
The company in a blog post Wednesday about the impending “misguided” lawsuit said it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment (and) has always disciplined and terminated employees who engage in misconduct, including those who use racial slurs or harass others in different ways. The firm recently launched a 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,” according to the post.