California’s civil rights body sues Tesla over racism claims at factory

CALIFORNIA (BLOOMBERG) – California’s civil rights regulator said it sued Tesla over claims of racial discrimination at the company’s facilities in the state.

After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) “found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment”, Mr Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement.

The suit was filed Wednesday (Feb 9) in Alameda County Superior Court, the agency said.

The complaint wasn’t immediately available on the court’s website.

Tesla said in a Feb 8 blog post – before the suit was filed – that the company “will be asking the court to pause the case and take other steps to ensure that facts and evidence will be heard”.

The agency is the state-level equivalent of the better-known US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with a mission to protect Californians from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and accommodations.

The DFEH informed Tesla on Jan 3 that it had grounds to file a complaint.

Tesla warned investors of the agency’s investigation in the annual report it filed this week.

Tesla has faced numerous complaints and lawsuits from former workers at its Fremont plant about racial discrimination and sexual harassment in recent years.

Many complaints never make it to court because Tesla’s full-time employees sign agreements requiring workplace disputes to be handled in closed-door arbitration.

In October, a black man who previously worked as a contractor for Tesla and complained of pervasive racism at the plant was awarded US$137 million (S$184 million) by a federal jury in San Francisco – believed to be the largest such verdict of its kind.

The judge in the case signalled at a January hearing that he will probably reduce the award but won’t grant Tesla’s request for a new trial.

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