California accuses Tesla of racial segregation at factory

Lawsuit alleges black workers were subjected to racial slurs and discrimination at company's Fremont plant

A California agency has claimed a Tesla factory subjected black workers to racial slurs and discrimination in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion. Reuters
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A California agency has filed a lawsuit against Tesla, accusing the electric vehicle maker of segregating black employees at its factory in the state.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) “found evidence that Tesla's Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion”, Kevin Kish, the agency's director, said in a statement.

Black workers at the factory were regularly subjected to deeply offensive racial slurs and jokes by co-workers and managers, the complaint said. Mr Kish said the agency received hundreds of complaints from workers at the plant.

In a blog post pre-empting the complaint, Tesla said it strongly “opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment” and disciplines and terminates employees for engaging in misconduct, including using racial slurs and other forms of harassment.

Calling the lawsuit “misguided”, Tesla said the agency's decision to sue is counterproductive because the allegations are from years ago. The electric car maker intends to ask the court to pause the case.

Excerpts from the filing paint a picture of a factory rife with racist incidents, despite the company claiming it is committing to providing “a workplace that is safe, respectful, fair and inclusive­".

The agency said non-black workers would refer to areas where many black or African-American employees were stationed with racist historical names, including “the plantation”, referring to agricultural plantations where black slaves worked before the mid-19th century.

Workers at the Tesla factory would commonly be “taunted by racial slurs and then baited into verbal and physical confrontations” by non-black workers and would subsequently face disciplinary action, the complaint said.

One black worker heard racial slurs between 50 and 100 times per day, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Workers said supervisors and managers were either “active participants and/or witnesses to these racist comments”, and racist graffiti was left in work stations, break rooms and restrooms, an except of the filing acquired by The Verge showed.

Other racist graffiti included Nazi swastikas, the N-word, “KKK” in reference to the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan, and “go back to Africa".

Non-black workers were frequently given preferential treatment at the plant, the filing said, including being handed easier jobs and given greater leniency in disciplinary proceedings compared to their black colleagues.

The company, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has been hit with several lawsuits alleging discrimination at the factory in Fremont, California, in recent months.

Six women in December filed a lawsuit against Tesla, claiming the company fostered a culture of sexual harassment at the Fremont factory and elsewhere. Women employees, the lawsuit said, were subjected to vulgar comments, unwanted touching and discrimination, The Washington Post reported.

In October, Tesla was ordered by a judge to pay $137 million in damages to a former black worker after he called the factory a hostile working environment where “daily racist epithets” were used.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Updated: February 10, 2022, 3:54 PM