California Sues Tesla, Alleging Race Discrimination

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. February 14, 2022

​The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) on Feb. 9 brought a lawsuit against Tesla Inc. for alleged race discrimination and harassment. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other outlets.

'Hundreds of Complaints'

"After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers and a nearly three-year investigation, DFEH found evidence that Tesla operates a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion," said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. "DFEH will continue to take steps to keep workplaces free of harassment and racism."


Lawsuit's Allegations in Detail

The DFEH said it found evidence that Tesla:

  • Kept Black workers in the lowest level roles in the company and paid them less than colleagues.
  • Denied Black workers training and promotions and disciplined them more severely than others.
  • Assigned Black workers more physically demanding work.
  • Retaliated against Black workers who formally complained to HR after supervisors and other colleagues used racist epithets.
  • Practically ignored complaints from Black workers who protested "the commonplace use of racial slurs on the assembly line."
  • Moved unreasonably slowly to "clean up racist graffiti with swastikas and other hate symbols scrawled in common areas."


Tesla Denies Any Violation

Tesla criticized the lawsuit, arguing that the state agency had investigated dozens of previous claims in recent years and found no misconduct. "It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla," the company said. "A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof." The company described the lawsuit as counterproductive "at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California." Tesla moved its headquarters from California to Texas last year and built a new factory near Austin, Texas.

(The New York Times)

Large Award Against Tesla Involving Different Calif. Plant

A federal district judge ordered Tesla last October to pay a Black former elevator operator $137 million in damages on his claim that the electric carmaker ignored racial epithets and graffiti that created a hostile work environment at a Tesla plant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tesla has said it doesn't believe the verdict is justified and has asked for a new trial or a reduction in damages.

(SHRM Online) and (The Wall Street Journal)

Findings from Tesla's DE&I Report

Black employees make up 10 percent of Tesla's U.S. workforce but only 4 percent of its leadership, according to Tesla's 2020 diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) report.




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