US anti-discrimination agency sues Tesla over ‘pervasive’ racism

Tesla car at Fremont, California
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A federal anti-discrimination agency filed a lawsuit on 28 September accusing Elon Musk’s Tesla of allowing “pervasive” racism at its Silicon Valley car plant. The company also stands accused of retaliating against Black workers who opposed such abuse.

Black workers at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, have routinely endured stereotyping, racial insults and hostility since at least 2015, according to the lawsuit. It was filed in federal court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Tesla: ‘hostile work environment’

The lawsuit alleged that Tesla:

subjected Black employees at its manufacturing facilities in Fremont, California… to severe or pervasive racial harassment and created and maintained a hostile work environment because of their race.

The commission added that:

The racial misconduct was frequent, ongoing, inappropriate, unwelcome and occurred across all shifts, departments and positions.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Read on...

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Racist graffiti at the plant included swastikas, nooses, and threats, according to the suit. Some of the graffiti allegedly adorned vehicles rolling off the production line.

‘Casual’ use of slurs

The commission said Black workers routinely endured racist slurs including variations of the “N-word”, along with “monkey” and “boy”.

According to the EEOC:

Slurs were used casually and openly in high-traffic areas and at worker hubs.

Tesla supervisors and managers allegedly witnessed racial abuses but did not intervene. Likewise, the company also failed to take steps to address the misconduct. Black Tesla workers who complained of racist treatment found themselves switched to undesirable duties or shifts, written up unjustly, or even discharged.

Court documents quoted a Black Tesla worker as saying:

After I voiced my unhappiness, I started getting written up for every little thing that was acceptable before – like listening to music while working.

The commission said it was unable to reach a settlement with Tesla.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, along with compensation for wronged Black workers. On top of this, it’s also asking for an order that Tesla curb racism at the factory.

Repeat offender

This isn’t the first time the Fremont plant has been under scrutiny, either. California sued Tesla last year, alleging discrimination and harassment against Black workers at the facility. The complaint called the factory a “racially segregated workplace”.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the state’s civil rights laws, said it had received hundreds of complaints from workers.

Tesla at that time released a statement saying it “opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment”. The company also stated that that it is committed to providing “a workplace that is safe, respectful, fair and inclusive”.

Separately, a number of female Tesla workers filed lawsuits in 2021 alleging sexual harassment at the Fremont plant. A Black worker also won millions of dollars in a separate racism case.

The news comes less than a month after Tesla owner Elon Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Musk stated that the ADL was defaming his X platform (formerly Twitter) by “falsely accusing it and me of being antisemitic”. Antisemitic posting rose sharply on the site after Musk took over and reinstated accounts which were previously banned for discriminatory remarks.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Steve Jurvetson, resized to 1910*1000, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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