Judge allows lawsuit alleging racism at Tesla factory to move forward

Judge allows lawsuit alleging racism at Tesla factory to move forward

A federal judge will allow portions of a lawsuit alleging racism at a Tesla factory in California to move forward. 

U.S. District Judge William Orrick, an Obama-appointee, decided Monday that there were still open questions over whether former employees Owen Diaz and his son, Demetric Di-az, experienced “severe and pervasive racial harassment” while working at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., in 2015 and 2016.

The Obama-appointee concluded that Diaz could pursue claims that Tesla allowed racial harassment and did not take necessary steps to combat it, according to the order. Punitive damages could be rewarded if Tesla knew about the harassment and “ratified” it, the judge wrote. 

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The trial is scheduled for May 11, Reuters reported. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Orrick said Diaz could also move forward with allegations against a staffing agency that sent him to the factory. Diaz worked as an elevator operator for 11 months, and his son worked as a production associate for two months, according to Reuters. 

However, the judge did approve a motion to dismiss claims associated with the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a law forbidding discrimination — including racial discrimination — and several claims against the associated staffing agencies.

The plaintiffs, who are black, said they experienced racial epithets dozens of times as well as cartoons, including one “depicting a black face person with a bone in his hair with the caption under it saying boo,” allegedly short for “jigaboo,” a racial slur. They allege their supervisors participated in or did not stop the harassment. 

Tesla has countered the claims, saying the company “did not hesitate” to confront racism and there was no proof of “oppression, malice, or fraud,” according to Reuters. 

The plaintiffs’ lawyer Lawrence Organ, said his clients are seeking damages “in the millions,” according to news outlet. 

“Tesla is not sending a message that this kind of conduct in the workplace is not permitted,” he told Reuters.