Tesla award for racial discrimination reduced to $15 million: NPR


Vehicles are parked outside the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, May 12, 2020. A federal judge has reduced the award to a black former contract worker over allegations he faced racial discrimination at the factory.

Ben Margot/AP


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Ben Margot/AP


Vehicles are parked outside the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, May 12, 2020. A federal judge has reduced the award to a black former contract worker over allegations he faced racial discrimination at the factory.

Ben Margot/AP

A federal judge has reduced a black former contract worker’s payout to $15 million – from $137 million – in a racial discrimination lawsuit against Tesla.

Owen Diaz, who worked as a contract elevator operator at the automaker’s factory in Fremont, California, sued the company in 2017, alleging he had been racially discriminated against.

After a federal jury in San Francisco ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $137 million last year, Tesla challenged the verdict.

On Wednesday, Judge William Orrick reduced the price to $15 million.

“That’s the maximum,” Larry Organ, Diaz’s attorney and founder of the California Civil Rights Law Group, told NPR. “It wasn’t because [the judge] found something wrong with what Mr. Diaz said or that Mr. Diaz wasn’t hurt or something. It’s just based on a comparison.”

Diaz testified that employees called him the N-word among other racial slurs. A Tesla supervisor called it the N-word “more than 30 times,” Diaz said, according to court documents obtained by NPR.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is also suing Tesla for alleged racism and harassment of black employees at the same factory.

“The evidence was disturbing. The jury heard that the Tesla factory was saturated with racism,” Orrick wrote in his order.

Hearing the word once can be “devastating”, writes Orrick, and Diaz and other employees have heard it “repeatedly and frequently” around the plant.

Despite Diaz’s complaints, her employers did little to stop it, the judge wrote. The emotional effects on Diaz were profound, Orrick added.

“All of this leads me to conclude that this is not, as Tesla tries to portray, a case of ‘garden variety’ emotional distress that was ‘thankfully mild and short-lived,'” wrote the judge.

Tesla said the facts of the case did not support the verdict

In a message to employees last year that was shared on the company blog, a Tesla executive described what the jury heard and said the company believes “these facts do not support the verdict. “.

“…We recognize that in 2015 and 2016, we weren’t perfect,” wrote Valerie Capers Workman, then vice president of People. “We’re still not perfect.”

Workman added, “We will continue to remind everyone who enters the Tesla workplace that discriminatory slurs – regardless of intent or who uses them – will not be tolerated.”

Organ, who represented Diaz, said it was gratifying to see the judge recognize the severity of the racism his client experienced at Tesla.

“Mr. Diaz showed great courage in standing up to a company like Tesla, which was fighting tooth and nail to beat him,” Organ told NPR. “Mr. Diaz’s achievement should not be overlooked simply on the basis of reducing the verdict to legal principles.”

Starting Wednesday, Diaz has 30 days to file a notice whether he accepts or rejects the amended judgments, according to court documents.

Tesla did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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