Former Tesla employee Owen Diaz won $137million in a discrimination lawsuit against Tesla, where he faced discrimination ‘straight from Jim Crow era’ (Pictures: AP/Getty Images/Owen Diaz/Reuters)
Tesla has been ordered to pay $137million to a black former employee who accused the company of ignoring racial abuse he faced while working there, including being called the N-word.
Owen Diaz, 52, who was an elevator operator for Tesla between 2015 and 2016, alleged in the lawsuit that he faced discrimination ‘straight from the Jim Crow era’.
The former employee said his coworkers left drawings of swastikas, racist graffiti and offensive cartoons depicting derogatory caricatures of black children around the plant, while supervisors turned a blind eye to the abuse.
‘Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive demeaning treatment of African-American employees,’ the lawsuit states.
Despite his complaints of discrimination, plaintiff Owen Diaz alleges the company did very little to address the behavior (Picture: Sipa USA)
Despite his complaints, the company did little to address the behavior, Diaz said.
One of his supervisors drew a person with a black face and a bone in his hair and wrote ‘booo’, short for ‘jigaboo’, the Daily Mail reported. The same supervisor then allegedly told Diaz he ‘couldn’t take a joke’, when Diaz confronted him.
After four hours of deliberations on Monday, a federal jury in San Francisco agreed with Diaz’s claim that Tesla created a hostile work environment by failing to address the racism he endured.
‘It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for black people,’ said Diaz’s attorney Lawrence Organ, according to The New York Times.
A San Francisco jury agreed with Owen Diaz, a former Tesla employee, who claimed the company created a hostile work environment by failing to address the racism he endured (Picture: AP)
A San Francisco federal court jury awarded Diaz $6.9million for emotional distress, and $130 in punitive damages against Tesla.
Despite the abuse he faced, Diaz told The Times he reached a breaking point when he witnessed similar abuse directed to his son, who secured a job at the company with his father’s help.
‘My son watched his father being broken in front of him,’ he said.
His son also sued Tesla, alongside another black former employee, but only Diaz’s claims made it to trial.
It’s unclear whether Tesla is planning to appeal the court’s ruling.
Tesla responded to the lawsuit in a blog post by human resources vice president Valerie Capers Workman, who said that in addition to Diaz, three other witnesses testified saying they ‘regularly heard racial slurs (including the N-word) on the Fremont factory floor’.
Workman added: ‘While they all agreed that the use of the N-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a “friendly” manner and usually by African-American colleagues.’
Tesla also claims it fired two contractors and suspended another, in response to Diaz’s complaints.
‘We do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect,’ Workman wrote on the Tesla blog. ‘We’re still not perfect. But we have come a long way from 5 years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns. Occasionally we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable.’
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