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- Former Tesla factory workers have filed two separate lawsuits claiming they experienced racial harassment and discrimination. One ex-worker said a supervisor drew and hung up a derogatory picture of a “pickaninny” cartoon. All say they were called the N-word on a regular basis. Tesla said the workers didn’t file official complaints of racial discrimination during their employment.
Three former workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory have filed a lawsuit against the company over claims they experienced racial discrimination and harassment on the job.
The suit, first reported by Mercury News, was filed in Alameda County Courthouse on Monday.
Tesla’s Fremont factory has come under close scrutiny as the company struggles to ramp up production for its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3.
The October 16 suit is the second to claim black workers at the Fremont factory were subject to discrimination and harassment.
Tesla will also attend a November 14 hearing before the National Labor Relations Board, which claims the company violated Fremont workers’ rights by suppressing their unionization efforts.
A Tesla representative said the employees named in the suit never filed official complaints saying they were subject to racist epithets and language.
“In situations where Tesla is at fault, we will never seek to avoid responsibility,” the Tesla representative said in an email statement to Business Insider. “But in this instance, from what we know so far, this does not seem to be such a case.”
The three men named in the suit are all African American and were hired at Tesla through three different employment agencies: Citistaff Solutions, West Valley Staffing Group, and Chartwell Staffing Services. Those agencies are also named in the suit.
Owen Diaz said coworkers frequently called him the N-word when he worked at Fremont between June 2015 and May 2016. He said his supervisor drew and hung up a derogatory picture of a “pickaninny” cartoon with the caption “boo” in the factory and that such drawings were commonplace.
The suit says Owen Diaz filed complaints about the discrimination with a Tesla supervisor and Citistaff, but no action was taken. He quit his job in May 2016.
The Tesla representative confirmed that Diaz’s supervisor received an email in October 2015 that said a coworker was yelling and making aggressive comments. “That email made no mention of the use of any racist language or epithets,” the Tesla representative said.
Demetric Diaz, the son of Owen Diaz, was a production associate at Tesla’s Fremont factory between August 2015 and October 2016. He says he also had to endure daily racist epithets during his shift and was fired from his job one week after filing a complaint to his supervisor.
Lamar Patterson, an elevator operator between January 2016 and August 2016, says he was subject to frequent racist epithets before ultimately quitting.
The Tesla representative said Demetric Diaz and Patterson never filed a complaint during their employment at the company.
The suit demands a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages. The suit is one of several complaints alleging there is a toxic work environment at Tesla’s Fremont factory.
Fremont worker DeWitt Lambert claims in a separate suit that coworkers harassed him by regularly calling him the N-word and making sexually explicit comments. The case has since been moved to arbitration.
Some workers at Tesla’s Fremont factory have been calling for a union since the beginning of this year. Those part of the union effort said they regularly face excessive mandatory overtime and dangerous work conditions.
Tesla will attend a November 14 hearing before the NLRB over claims it suppressed unionization efforts in the Fremont factory.
The Tesla representative said the company recently launched an online anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training program that all employees are required to take.
Read Tesla’s full statement:
“No employee should ever feel harassed or mistreated based on their race, gender, beliefs or anything else. There are over 33,000 people working at Tesla, and given our size, we recognize that unfortunately at times there will be cases of harassment or discrimination in corners of the company. For there to be zero cases in a global workforce of 33,000 would be impossible for any company, no matter how much we care. And we care a lot, particularly given how hard everyone at Tesla works to do what most regard as impossible. In situations where Tesla is at fault, we will never seek to avoid responsibility. But in this instance, from what we know so far, this does not seem to be such a case.”
If you’re a current or former Tesla Fremont worker and want to talk about your experience at the company, contact the author securely at dmuoio[at]businessinsider[dot]com.