Lawsuit Against Tesla Claims "Pre-Civil Rights Race Discrimination"

Elon Musk's alleged response has complainants feeling unsatisfied.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Tesla has been hit with a class-action lawsuit that alleges the company’s Fremont, California facility operates under “pre-civil rights era race discrimination.” Inverse has obtained the lawsuit in full, brought forth by former Tesla employee Marcus Vaughn on behalf of a number of black employees at the facility who claim they’ve experienced daily racial harassment from a number of co-workers.

The suit says that since Vaughn started working on the Tesla production floor in April, he and some other black colleagues were “routinely” called “n—ger” and “n—ga” by other employees. Vaughn claims that he reported this harassment to human resources, but that the company never investigated. He alleges that on the contrary, the company “rehires known harassers.”

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

Here are just some of the disturbing accusations from the suit:

From a complaint in writing sent by Vaughn to Human Resources Business Partner Rose Sanson and CEO Elon Musk:
“[Vaughn’s colleague] Tim Cotton spoke up and said he didn’t like when associates say n—-a on the line, it made him and a lot of us on the line feel uncomfortable. Since that day there has been so much back lash, from him getting hit in the back of the head with the chair, to him getting called bipolar, sensitive, people say n—-a around him just to get a reaction out of him…”

According to the suit, Tesla “did not conduct an investigation” into Vaughn’s claim and “instead…terminated him” on October 31, 2017 for “not having a positive attitude.”

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court
“African-American employees, including Plaintiff and other Class Members, have complained to their supervisors, Human Resources and upper management about the racist behavior in the workplace, both verbally and in writing. As early as fall 2015, Mr. Lambert complained to his Supervisor Charles Lambert about the frequent use of the N-words, and a year later showed Human Resources Business Partner Rose Sanson hateful, violent and racist videos created on his phone by an employee and a supervisor at the Tesla Factory. However, Tesla took no action, either to investigate or reprimand the harassers.”

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

The suit also alleges that on May 31, 2017, a month after Vaughn had been hired, Musk sent the following email to Tesla Factory employees, which seems to suggest its black employees should be “thick-skinned” and “accept” the apology of a co-worker who’s racially harassed them, should they apologize at all:

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

Alameda County Clerk of the Superior Court

This is the third time Tesla has been sued for racial harassment in its factories. In October, another Tesla factory worker, Jorge Ferro, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company after he was allegedly taunted and threatened with homophobic remarks.

Since the suit is in its nascency, it’s unclear what the next step is for the plaintiff or the defendants.

You can read the entire law suit in full below:

Update 11/14: Tesla has responded to the lawsuit in a blog post. Here’s an excerpt:

Regarding yesterday’s lawsuit, several months ago we had already investigated disappointing behavior involving a group of individuals who worked on or near Marcus Vaughn’s team. At the time, our investigation identified a number of conflicting accusations and counter-accusations between several African-American and Hispanic individuals, alleging use of racial language, including the “n-word” and “w-word,” towards each other and a threat of violence. After a thorough investigation, immediate action was taken, which included terminating the employment of three of the individuals.
We believe this was the fair and just response to the facts that we learned. There will be further action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work and making sure we do everything possible to stop bad behavior from happening in the first place. Our company has more than 33,000 employees, with over 10,000 in the Fremont factory alone, so it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct, but we will do our best to make it as close to zero as possible.

You can read Tesla’s entire response here.

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