Tesla sued by EEOC for allegedly allowing a racist and hostile work environment

White employees at Tesla have hurled racist slurs at Black co-workers inside the automaker’s factory in Fremont, California, for at least eight years and the company has refused to stamp out the behavior, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.

Lawyers with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also claim in the lawsuit that the still-present racial harassment has created a hostile work environment dating back as far as May 2015. Black employees regularly hear their colleagues say “monkey,” “boy,” or even use the N-word to address them, the lawsuit claims. The White co-workers involved in the behavior span from managers and supervisors to line leads and production associates, court documents allege. 

“Black employees also encountered displays of racist graffiti, including swastikas, threats and nooses,” the lawsuit states. “They found such graffiti on a variety of surfaces, including on desks, in elevators and on equipment, including vehicles rolling off the production lines.”

EEOC lawyers want a federal judge to award Black Tesla employees back pay and punitive damages but don’t specify an exact amount of money in the lawsuit. 

“Today’s lawsuit makes clear that no company is above the law, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal civil rights protections to help ensure American workplaces are free from unlawful harassment and retaliation,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in a statement Thursday. 

Allegations denied by Tesla

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The company denied previous allegations of racist comments made by White employees. In a 2017 blog post on the company’s website titled “Hotbed of Misinformation,” Tesla stated it “is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment or unfair treatment of any kind.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit comes roughly two years after a California judge ordered Tesla to pay a former Black employee $1 million when he was exposed to racist language at the factory. The employee, Melvin Berry, filed two complaints against his supervisors at Tesla in 2017 after he confronted them for calling him the racial slur and forcing him to work longer hours. 

In April, a federal jury awarded another former Tesla employee $3.2 million for racial abuse he suffered. Owen Diaz alleged he was called the N-word more than 30 times, shown racist cartoons and told to “go back to Africa” during his roughly nine-month tenure at Tesla that ended in 2016.

Tesla also faces a class-action lawsuit from employees of color alleging they heard racial slurs as well. 

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