Tesla Inc. posted a lengthy rebuttal to a lawsuit alleging racist behavior at one of its factories, saying the company is “absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment or unfair treatment.”
The blog post, published late Tuesday, is a fiery response to a complaint filed Monday by Marcus Vaughn, an African-American worker at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory from April until October. He alleged the plant was a “ hotbed” of racism, where black workers suffered severe and pervasive harassment. Vaughn said he’s one of more than 100 black workers at the factory and is seeking permission from a judge to sue on behalf of the group.
While many Silicon Valley tech companies have released their diversity statistics, Palo Alto, California-based Tesla hasn’t. The company has more than 33,000 employees globally, with over 10,000 in the Fremont factory alone, and hires many temporary and contract workers. The United Auto Workers union is attempting to organize the factory, a move that’s brought working conditions and labor issues to the forefront.
Tesla is fierce about protecting its reputation and its brand, and will go to great lengths to correct what it perceives as inaccuracies in the public record. In 2013, Tesla famously fired back at the New York Times over a reporter’s account of a Model S road trip.
When Tesla investigated “disappointing behavior” involving a group of individuals several months ago, it discovered “conflicting accusations and counter-accusations between several African-American and Hispanic individuals,” the company said in the blog post.
Tesla noted that Vaughn is the only named plaintiff listed on the complaint and that the reference to 100 other workers is “a complete fabrication with no basis in fact.”
The company said Vaughn was employed by a temporary agency, not directly by Tesla, and wasn’t fired but instead was on a six-month contract that ended.
Larry Organ, the attorney for Vaughn, is reviewing Tesla’s rebuttal, according to his law firm. He wasn’t immediately available to comment Wednesday morning.
Tesla also posted, in full, an email that Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk sent on May 31, portions of which were stated in the lawsuit.
“Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of an historically less represented group,” Musk wrote. “This doesn’t mean there is a different standard of performance or that you can’t give critical feedback. You should — doing anything else would be an insult to the hard work it took to get there — but don’t ever intentionally allow someone to feel excluded, uncomfortable or unfairly treated. Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize.”
“In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologies, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology,” wrote Musk. “If you are part of a less represented group, you don’t get a free pass on being a jerk yourself. We have had a few cases at Tesla where someone in a less represented group was actually given a job or promoted over more qualified highly represented candidates and then decided to sue Tesla for millions of dollars because they felt they weren’t promoted enough. That obviously is not cool.”