Ex-Tesla em­ployee charges racism

For­mer as­sem­bly worker claims n-word was used but no HR in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Ethan Baron ebaron@ba­yare­anews­group.com

PALO ALTO » A new law­suit al­leges Tesla’s fac­tory floor is a “hot­bed for racist be­hav­ior.”

In the suit, for­mer as­sem­bly worker Mar­cus Vaughn, who said he was fired from the elec­tric car maker for “not hav­ing a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude,” claims su­per­vi­sors and co-work­ers called him the n-word, but his writ­ten re­port to hu­man re­sources about it drew no in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Tesla did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the law­suit, which was filed Nov. 13 at Cal­i­for­nia Su­pe­rior Court in Alameda County.

Vaughn’s law­suit seeks cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as a class-ac­tion, to bring in cur­rent and for­mer African-Amer­i­can Tesla fac­tory work­ers.

“Al­though Tesla stands out as a ground­break­ing com­pany at the fore­front of the elec­tric car rev­o­lu­tion, its stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure at the Tesla Fac­tory is pre-Civil Rights Era race dis­crim­i­na­tion,” the law­suit al­leges. “Race harassment has con­tin­ued at the Tesla Fac­tory, and be­came more wide­spread, be­cause de­spite their knowl­edge of the harassment, De­fen­dants have done noth­ing that could be rea­son­ably ex­pected to stop it.”

Vaughn’s le­gal ac­tion is the third law­suit filed this year by black work­ers al­leg­ing racial slurs were used against them and that the com­pany ig­nored their com­plaints. It is the first such suit to seek class-ac­tion sta­tus.

Vaughn claimed in the suit that shortly af­ter he started work­ing at Tesla in April, su­per­vi­sors and co-work­ers be­gan tar­get­ing him for harassment on the ba­sis of his race. The nword was used against him “on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” and he wit­nessed the use of the slur to­ward other black em­ploy­ees, he claimed. He said he was fired in Oc­to­ber.

His le­gal com­plaint in­cluded a memo it said was from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to em­ploy­ees. In the re­ported May 31 memo, Musk ap­peared to push back against mi­nor­ity work­ers’ griev­ances.

“Part of not be­ing a huge jerk is con­sid­er­ing how some­one might feel who is part of his­tor­i­cally less rep­re­sented group,” Musk wrote in the emailed memo, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. “Some­times these things hap­pen un­in­ten­tion­ally, in which case you should apol­o­gize. In fair­ness, if some­one is a jerk to you, but sin­cerely apol­o­gizes, it is im­por­tant to be thick-skinned and ac­cept that apol­ogy.”

Vaughn’s law­suit took is­sue with the pur­ported re­sponse from the Tesla chief to prob­lems in the work­place.

“In light of CEO Musk’s mes­sage to em­ploy­ees that racist ep­i­thets can be di­rected ‘un­in­ten­tion­ally’ and that it is ‘im­por­tant to be thick-skinned,’ it is not sur­pris­ing that the Tesla Fac­tory has be­come a hot­bed for racist be­hav­ior,” the suit said.

Vaughn is seek­ing un­spec­i­fied gen­eral and puni­tive dam­ages un­der Cal­i­for­nia anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law.

On top of law­suits, Tesla is fac­ing crit­i­cism over its fail­ure to meet pro­duc­tion tar­gets for its en­try-level sedan, the Model 3.

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