What just happened? Tesla says that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is suing the company over alleged racial discrimination that took place at its factory in Fremont, California, between 2015 and 2019.
After receiving complaints from hundreds of workers, the 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," said Kevin Kish, the agency's director.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Black workers were assigned to more physically demanding roles, subject to more severe disciplinaries, and were passed over for professional opportunities at the Fremont factory.
Additionally, there are claims of supervisors and managers using racial slurs; the DFEH says one Black worker heard racist language as often as 50 to 100 times a day. There are also reports of racist graffiti being found on restroom walls, lockers, benches, workstations, lunch tables, and the break room.
Before the suit was filed, Tesla denied the charges in a pre-emptive blog post, writing that it would ask the court to pause the case "and take other steps to ensure that facts and evidence will be heard." It claims that the DFEH declined to provide the company with the specific allegations or the factual bases for its lawsuit.
Tesla is no stranger to this sort of suit. The EV maker was made to pay a Black former employee $137 million in damages in October last year after he reported hearing "daily racist epithets" and was told to "go back to Africa" by co-workers. The judge in the case said in January that he would probably reduce that award but wouldn't grant Tesla a request for a new trial.
Tesla says it strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints. It also writes that it is the last remaining automobile manufacturer in California, the Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce, and it provides the best-paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.