Tesla has been ordered by a federal court jury to pay $3.2 million to Owen Diaz, a Black former contract worker for the company, for failing to protect him from racial abuse. This marks a significant reduction from the $137 million award Diaz won two years ago, which had been considered among the highest ever handed down to an individual for suing over discrimination in the US. Diaz had sought up to $150 million in punitive damages, but received $3 million instead. In the original trial, he had been awarded $6.9 million for emotional distress, with Tesla also receiving $130 million in punitive damages.
Diaz had sued Tesla for what he alleged was a pattern of racial harassment and hostility at the Fremont, California, factory where he worked, where slurs were commonplace and graffiti with swastikas and other hate symbols was slow to be removed. Diaz’s lawyers argued that Tesla failed to address his complaints and exposed him to “saturated” racism in the workplace. The defense, for its part, countered that Diaz had lied numerous times and that his demand for damages “was like a game show.”
While the award was reduced from 2021, the case itself highlighted the systemic racism faced by Black workers at companies like Tesla. The electric vehicle manufacturer has faced multiple complaints from Black workers of racial harassment at its factories, with allegations of management allowing the use of racial slurs and failing to take sufficiently prompt action to remove racist graffiti. Though Judge William Orrick had lowered the jury’s award in February, he found that the evidence presented was “disturbing” and backed the outcome of the trial.
In addition to Diaz’s case, Tesla is also being accused by California’s civil rights department of subjecting hundreds of African American workers at its factory to mistreatment, including harassment, job discrimination, retaliation, and unequal pay. Other companies, including Uber and Google, have also faced lawsuits or investigations over allegations of discrimination against Black and minority workers. In 2021, Google agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a case brought by the US Department of Labor, which found that the company had underpaid female and minority software engineers.
The most recent verdict underscores the difficulties faced by Black workers seeking to hold companies accountable for discrimination and harassment faced in the workplace. Despite the progress made in recent years towards establishing greater equity and diversity in the corporate world, many workers, particularly those from marginalized communities, continue to face discrimination, bias, and harassment on the job. Some workers have organized, filed lawsuits, or started initiatives aimed at addressing discrimination and harassment, but the road towards greater equity and inclusion in the workplace remains long and challenging.
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