An aerial view shows the Tesla Fremont factory in Fremont, California, on February 10, 2022.
Josh Edson | AFP | fake images
A federal jury in San Francisco ordered Tesla to pay $3 million in punitive damages and $175,000 in non-economic damages to Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at the company’s Fremont, California, factory, after he endured a racially charged work environment. hostile during his time. in the company.
Diaz, a black man, was hired as a contract worker at Tesla in 2015 through an employment agency.
Previously, he was awarded a $137 million verdict in 2021, including punitive damages, after a jury found that Diaz had suffered civil rights violations at Tesla and that the electric vehicle maker failed to take all reasonable steps to terminate and prevent racist harassment.
Diaz and Tesla sought a new trial to decide damages after Judge William H. Orrick reduced the amount to $15 million.
Diaz, distraught and at times tearful, told the court again last week how his Tesla colleagues used racist epithets to denigrate him and other black workers, made him feel physically unsafe on the job, told him to “go back to Africa.” “and they left. graffiti in the bathrooms and a racist drawing in his workspace.
The drawing left on his workspace was a crude one resembling Inki the Caveman, a 1950s cartoon widely regarded as racist whose main character is a black boy portrayed with big lips, wearing a loincloth, earrings, and a bone in the hair
Diaz also testified that while she encouraged her son to work at Tesla, she now considers it one of the biggest regrets of her life because her son was also exposed to a racially hostile workplace there.
Plaintiff’s attorney, Bernard Alexander of Morrison Alexander & Fehr, in his closing arguments urged the jury to hold Tesla accountable for failing to stop and prevent racist harassment of employees, and for the suffering Diaz endured.
“No black man in 2015 should be subjected,” Alexander said, “to this plantation-minded workplace.”
Alexander also urged jurors to decide on damages in an amount that will “get Tesla’s attention.” He called Tesla a company that has to accuse others of lying because they can’t explain why they would allow Civil Rights Act violations at their factory.
The plaintiffs asked the jury to consider punitive damages of around $150 million for Tesla and to award Diaz $6.3 million in past non-economic damages and $2 million in future non-economic damages.
Tesla’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, argued that Diaz should only be awarded damages equal to about half of his salary, a few tens of thousands of dollars, not millions. Diaz had not disclosed his salary during the course of the trial, Judge William Orrick said Friday in the midst of Spiro’s closing argument last week.
Spiro also told jurors Friday that Diaz “lied to him.” He characterized the former Tesla contract worker as a confrontational person, who exaggerated the issues in his testimony repeatedly. Diaz had previously misrepresented the number of months he had worked at Tesla, Spiro said. Spiro also accused Diaz of lying to a doctor about his suffering in order to seek greater monetary damages from the company.
Evoking the Civil Rights Act, Diaz’s attorney asked jurors to make an example of Tesla, saying, “Do justice, and justice ain’t cheap.”
Tesla has been sued more than 200 times by current or former contractors and employees since 2018 in the US, according to the Plainsite database of legal records. That number does not take into account disputes that have gone directly to arbitration. As previously reported by CNBC, where it is legal to do so, Tesla has forced employees to agree to binding arbitration.
Last week, a former Tesla service manager, a black man named John Goode, filed a lawsuit in Northern California alleging that a white man who was his manager in Georgia repeatedly made racist comments in his presence, was racially biased against him and another black colleague. , had him fired under false pretenses in retaliation after Goode objected to this deal.