Tesla was ordered by a California federal court to pay nearly $ 137 million in damages to a former black employee who said he suffered racial abuse while working at a factory in Fremont.
Owen Diaz, a former contract elevator operator who worked at the factory between 2015 and 2016, claimed he had been harassed and faced “everyday racial epithets,” including the “word NOT”. He also said employees drew swastikas and left graffiti and racist drawings around the factory.
On Monday, a San Francisco jury sided with Diaz, who was awarded $ 6.9 million in emotional distress damages and $ 130 million in punitive damages, according to Diaz’s attorney, Lawrence A Organ.
“It took four long years to get to this,” Diaz told The New York Times. “It’s like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. “
Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said, “It’s a good thing when one of America’s richest corporations has to keep an account of the odious conditions in its factory for blacks. “
Diaz’s trial claimed supervisors had failed to stop the racial abuse.
“Tesla’s progressive image was a front that covered his regressive and demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the lawsuit said.
It was not immediately clear whether Tesla would appeal, but on Monday he released a statement attempting to play down the matter.
“While we firmly believe these facts do not support the jury’s verdict in San Francisco, we recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect, ”wrote Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla vice president of human resources.
“But we’ve come a long way in the past five years. We continue to grow and improve the way we respond to employee concerns. Sometimes we get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable. “
If upheld, the award would be a blow to a company that has faced allegations of workplace issues but requires employees to resolve disputes through compulsory arbitration, which the business rarely loses.
In May, an arbitrator ordered Tesla to pay more than $ 1 million for similar allegations by another former worker at the Fremont plant. This employee claimed co-workers called him a racial insult and supervisors ignored his complaints.
Diaz was hired through a recruitment agency and did not have to sign an arbitration agreement.