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Tesla Faces Multiple Claims of Racist Behavior in Plants

Over the last year, multiple lawsuits have sprung up against Tesla. Several Black employees have alleged that they have endured discriminatory behavior from managers and coworkers.

The Tesla logo on a sign outside a building.
(TNS) — Sometimes the manager at Tesla’s electric car factory in Fremont would greet employees with “Welcome to the plantation,” and sometimes he would say, “Welcome to the slave house,” a lawsuit by a Black employee claims.

The lawsuit filed Friday by a female current Tesla worker follows a slew of other suits against Tesla — including a civil-rights action by the state of California — alleging the company failed to properly respond to widespread racism in its facilities.

Raina Pierce started working in production at the Fremont plant in January 2021, installing latches onto car doors, according to her suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court. “Tesla’s facilities contain the n-word throughout,” with the slur often preceded by the f-word, the suit claimed. Supervisors referred to Pierce using the n-word and a gender-based insult, the suit alleged.

Tesla, based in Texas after moving its headquarters from Palo Alto late last year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its CEO, Elon Musk, is buying Twitter, the company confirmed Monday, with Musk saying in a statement that free speech was “the bedrock of a functioning democracy.”

Pierce further claimed in her suit that when a facility manager noticed she had been assigned to push two carts that were too heavy for one person, and notified her direct supervisors, one of them angrily claimed she had gotten him in trouble, and later made a vulgar comment about not being able to stand Black people.

Her supervisors let non-Black workers swap work stations regularly, but denied her requests to switch stations, and also disciplined her more frequently and severely than they did non-Black workers, the suit alleged.

Pierce in May 2021 reported the alleged harassment and discrimination to Tesla’s human resources department, according to the suit. The month before, she had begun to feel a sharp pain in her left knee and lower leg, with the problem aggravated by standing for long periods, walking long distances or carrying heavy items, the suit said. In September, suffering from the leg pain and an infection, she called out sick and was told she was being put on leave.

She claimed in the suit that Tesla, in addition to discriminating against her on the basis of race and gender, and failing to stop the alleged race-based harassment, retaliated against her for reporting the purported issues by making her stay on leave for more than three months. She is seeking general, punitive and compensatory damages.

In February, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing — the state’s civil rights regulator — filed suit against Tesla, alleging Black workers at the company’s Fremont facility 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. Tesla has called the lawsuit, in Alameda County Superior Court, “misguided” and “unfair.” Earlier this month, in a court filing attacking the state’s investigation that led to the suit as “bare-bones,” Tesla revealed that it is under investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also in February, Kaylen Barker, a Black worker at a Tesla parts factory in Lathrop, claimed in a lawsuit that a White co-worker called her the n-word and assaulted her. According to the suit, Tesla fired her assailant but then rehired her about two weeks later.

In March, a Black former quality manager for Tesla claimed in a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court that White co-workers who knew he had been traumatized by serious blast injuries he received as a military contractor in Afghanistan tormented him with ringtones set to sound like incoming-rocket warnings, among other race-based abuses. Marcellous Cage claimed Tesla fired him for racist reasons and because he reported life-threatening safety violations in the plant.

Late last year, Jessica Barraza, a Fremont factory worker, claimed in a lawsuit that she and other female workers at the facility were subjected to “a pervasive culture of sexual harassment,” which included “a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior” along with “frequent groping on the factory floor.”

In October, a San Francisco federal court jury awarded a Black former Tesla worker, Owen Diaz, almost $137 million after he sued the company over experiencing “daily racist epithets” in a workplace where colleagues drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the facility. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in a ruling that “disturbing” evidence supported the verdict against Tesla, but that legal principles compelled him to cut the award to $15 million.

In May, an arbitrator ordered Tesla to pay $1 million to Melvin Berry, a Black former Tesla factory worker called racial slurs by supervisors. Tesla is also still fighting a 2017 lawsuit by former worker Marcus Vaughn, a Black man who claimed the Fremont factory floor was a “hotbed for racist behavior.”

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