The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Tesla, accusing the automaker of racially discriminating against its Black employees and permitting a hostile work environment. The federal agency, responsible for enforcing civil rights laws in the workplace, alleges that Tesla tolerated widespread racial harassment and subjected workers to retaliation when they spoke out against it.
Tesla is facing legal action from the EEOC for allegedly allowing racial harassment and fostering a hostile work environment for its Black employees.
Previous Lawsuits and Investigations
This is not the first time Tesla has faced legal trouble concerning racial bias. In 2022, the California Civil Rights Department sued the company over similar allegations. Additionally, in April of the same year, a jury awarded a former Black employee, Owen Diaz, $3.2 million in damages after he experienced severe racial harassment at Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant.
In April 2022, Tesla disclosed the existence of an ongoing EEOC investigation in a financial filing. The company engaged in a mandatory conciliation process with the agency, but it proved unsuccessful, leading to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC on Thursday.
Allegations of Severe Racial Harassment
The EEOC’s lawsuit claims that Black employees at Tesla’s factory have endured “severe or pervasive racial harassment” and a hostile work environment since at least 2015. The filing provides details of the offensive behavior, including racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and offensive graffiti.
The lawsuit alleges that Black workers were referred to as “lazy,” “smelly,” and “always late.” They were subjected to slurs such as variations of the N-word, “monkey,” “boy,” and “black bitch.” According to the EEOC, these derogatory terms were used casually and in areas frequented by workers.
Black employees interviewed by the EEOC reported finding racially offensive graffiti, including KKK epithets, swastikas, and the N-word, in various locations within the factory premises. The graffiti was found in bathrooms, on desks, in elevators, and even on vehicles rolling off the production lines.
According to the lawsuit, supervisors and managers were aware of the racially offensive conduct but failed to intervene or address the behavior appropriately. Black employees who reported or stood up against racial harassment claimed that they were fired shortly after.
Violations of Civil Rights Act
The EEOC’s lawsuit accuses Tesla of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1991. The act requires employers to address and rectify unlawful practices based on race and provide appropriate relief to affected individuals.
Nancy Sienko, the EEOC’s San Francisco district office director, emphasized the importance of swiftly addressing such harassment and the responsibility of employers to uphold the law. She stated, “When you let a standard slip, you’ve set a new standard. Determining that prolific racial slurs do not merit serious discipline and failing to correct harassing conduct sends an entirely wrong message to employees.”
Response and Legal Actions
Tesla, which disbanded its press department in 2020, could not be reached for comment regarding the lawsuit. The EEOC has requested a jury trial and seeks damages for the aggrieved individuals, as well as fines for Tesla’s violations. Additionally, the agency requests a permanent injunction against Tesla’s management to prevent future racial discrimination and the implementation of policies that protect Black workers.
The lawsuit, titled EEOC v Tesla, Inc., Case No 4:23-cv-04984, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.