Tesla Inc. is working hard to save the world from bad drivers and toxic emissions, but behind the scenes it is battling a problem separate from its production of self-driving electric vehicles: racism in the workplace.
A Tesla employee recently filed a lawsuit against the company asserting that its production floor is a “hotbed for racist behavior.” The plaintiff claims that he and other black employees are exposed to severe racism that has infected the entire workplace.
“Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, its standard operating procedure at the Tesla factory is pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination,” plaintiff Marcus Vaughn alleges in the lawsuit filed Nov. 13 in California’s Alameda County Superior Court, according to Bloomberg Technology.
Mr. Vaughn was one of 10,000 employees at Tesla’s auto-assembly plant in Fremont, California. According to Bloomberg, Mr. Vaughn alleges “that employees and supervisors regularly used the ‘N word’ around him and other black colleagues.”
Mr. Vaughn complained about the rampant racism in writing to human resources and to Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, but the company fired him on Oct. 31 for “not having a positive attitude,” Bloomberg reported.
The complaint, which seeks to represent other black employees at Tesla, asks for general and punitive damages in addition to an order for Tesla to implement better company policies to prevent and address harassment in the workplace.
A Tesla production worker who sued the company in March alleging the company did little to stop co-workers from harassing him on the job had his case sent to arbitration by a judge. Another complaint filed last year by a female employee alleging sexual harassment was also sent to arbitration.
Mr. Vaughn hired a California civil rights attorney to represent him. The attorney told Bloomberg that Mr. Musk sent a memo to all employees in May addressing harassment and telling employees to accept an apology from “jerks” in the workplace and “be thick-skinned and accept that apology” from the offender.
“The law doesn’t require you to have a thick skin,” Mr. Vaughn’s lawyer told Bloomberg. “Tesla is not doing enough. It’s somewhat akin to saying ‘stop being politically correct.’ When you have a diverse workforce, you need to take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workforce.”