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California sues electric vehicle maker Tesla over pervasive racism at auto plant

California’s civil rights regulator said it was suing Tesla Inc. for racial discrimination after finding widespread harassment of black workers at the electric car maker’s factory near San Francisco.

The state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has received complaints from hundreds of workers and “found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where black workers face harassment. ‘Racial slurs and discrimination in work assignments, discipline, pay and promotion creating a hostile work environment,’ Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement late Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court was not immediately available on the court’s website.

Tesla said in a Feb. 8 blog post — before the lawsuit was filed — that the company “will ask the court to stay the case and take other steps to ensure the facts and evidence are heard. “.

The DFEH said a black worker said he heard racial slurs up to 50 to 100 times a day. Some who complained about the offensive language said supervisors and managers were active participants in or witnessed the abuse. On a daily basis, black workers saw racist graffiti on the walls of restrooms, lockers, benches, workstations, lunch tables and the break room, according to the statement emailed from the agency. , who provided a detailed summary of his findings.

The agency is the state-level equivalent of the better-known U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with a mission to protect Californians from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, and accommodation. The department informed Tesla on January 3 that it had grounds to file a complaint. Tesla warned investors about the agency’s investigation in the annual report it filed this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Tesla has more than 99,000 employees worldwide, while the Freemont plant employs more than 10,000 people. The automaker moved its headquarters from Palo Alto, California to Austin, Texas last year.

Tesla has faced numerous complaints and lawsuits from former workers at its Fremont plant for racial discrimination and sexual harassment in recent years. Many complaints never make it to court because full-time Tesla employees sign agreements requiring workplace disputes to be settled in closed-door arbitration.

In October, a black man who previously worked as a contractor for Tesla and complained of pervasive racism at the factory was awarded $137 million by a federal jury in San Francisco – considered the biggest such verdict. The judge hearing the case signaled at a hearing in January that he would likely reduce the price, but would not grant Tesla’s request for a new trial.

The DFEH said black workers were more quickly consigned or fired for minor infractions and were denied promotions.

“For many Black and/or African American workers, the stress of severe and pervasive racial harassment, the risk of physical altercation and escalation with harassers, blatant discrimination, disproportionately harsh discipline, and the futility of complaining , made the working conditions so intolerable that they quit,” according to the statement.