Tesla ordered to pay US$137m to former black worker over racist abuse


CHICAGO – A jury in the state of California ordered automaker Tesla to pay a former Black worker US$137 million, finding that he was the victim of racist abuse and a hostile work environment at a company plant.

Owen Diaz said he suffered daily racist epithets, including the “N-word,” while working at a San Francisco Bay area plant between 2015 and 2016, before he quit as a contracted elevator operator. He also said co-workers left swastikas, graffiti and drawings around the plant and supervisors did not take steps to stop it.

Diaz told the New York Times that it was “four long years” in getting to the jury’s decision on Monday and that it was “like a big weight has been taken off my shoulders”.

Diaz was awarded US$6.9 million in damages for emotional distress and US$130 million in punitive damages, according to Anadolu Agency.

Tesla Vice President of People Valerie Capers Workman, who is Black, said in a statement that the company “strongly” believes the facts did not support the jury’s decision.

She admitted janitors cleaned racist graffiti from bathrooms at the plant and the “N-word” was used but she said it was used primarily among Black workers.

And she said Tesla of today is not the company it was in 2015, when “we were not perfect”.

“We’re still not perfect,” she wrote in a company blog post “But we’ve come a long way from 5 years ago,” in rolling out new diversity programmes and policies to ensure that kind of behaviour would not be tolerated again.

In previous court filings, Black employees have alleged racial harassment at that plant, which employs about 10,000 workers.

Earlier this year, a former Black employee at the plant won US$1 million in an arbitration ruling, which found that he also endured racist and discriminatory behaviour when he worked at the plant, also between 2015 and 2016.