Tesla is appealing a federal court decision ordering it to pay approximately $137 million (£101.5 million) to a Black former employee who claims he was subjected to racist behaviour from company superiors at the company’s California factory.
Owen Diaz, a former contract worker hired through a staffing agency in 2015, was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, according to a federal jury in San Francisco on Monday. The award is one of the most significant of its kind.
However, Tesla has called the payout “staggering” and has requested a judge to reevaluate the ruling. The award should be reduced to $600,000, according to the company, half for mental anguish and the remainder for punitive damages. Meanwhile, the amount Tesla has decided to offer is a drop in the ocean compared to the $130 million in punitive fines levied by a jury in a court case in October.
During the trials, Owen stated that his previous employers at the California factory didn’t intervene in his claims of workplace racism. Instead, according to Owen, his coworkers left racial stereotypes around the factory, dented a racist remark in a restroom, and even told him to “go back to Africa.”
“[I] had supervisors telling me, ‘N*****, hurry up and push the button’, ‘N*****, push these batteries out of the elevator’. And they were also telling me, ‘N*****s aren’t shit’,” Mr Diaz said in October.
Tesla is bound to pay $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages, according to the San Francisco judge. However, Tesla said in a legal brief that the award “simply cannot stand.” The jury, nevertheless, believes the organisation “could and should have done more to root out alleged racism at the factory.”
“It is an award without precedent in US anti-discrimination law,” the company said in a filing dated 16 November. “It dwarfs awards in similar — and even in the most egregious — cases. And it bears no relationship to the actual evidence at trial.”
According to a jury member in the case, “the $130 million in punitive damages was intended to encourage Tesla executives to take the most basic preventative measures and precautions they neglected to take as a large corporation to protect any employee within their factory.”