Black workers at Tesla's California factory allege rampant racism, seek class action status

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Tesla could face a class action lawsuit after 240 African-American factory workers in California described rampant racism and discrimination at the electric car maker's San Francisco Bay Area plant, including frequent use of racial slurs. and references to the manufacturing site as a plantation or slave ship.

Testimony filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court came from contractors and employees who worked at the factory's production facility in Fremont, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco. The vast majority worked on the site from 2016 to the present. The lawyers who sued Tesla, Inc. estimate that at least 6,000 workers could be part of the class.

The individual testimonials are part of a 2017 lawsuit filed by Marcus Vaughn, who complained in writing to human resources and Tesla CEO Elon Musk about a hostile work environment in which he was insulted by coworkers and supervisors. No investigation was conducted and he was fired for "not having a positive attitude," according to his lawyers.

The lawsuit is just one of several lawsuits alleging racism, harassment and discrimination at the Fremont plant.

Last year, California regulators they sued Tesla in state court, alleging that the company turned a "blind eye" to the abuse and that Musk told workers to be "hard skinned" about racial harassment. In April, a federal jury awarded another former Tesla employee $3.2 million for the racial abuse he suffered.

Bryan Schwartz, one of Vaughn's attorneys, said the case dragged on for years as Tesla sought to force the lawsuit into arbitration. Instead, the California Supreme Court in April allowed black workers to seek a public injunction in court that would force Tesla to change his work environment.

"To have this extent of egregious bullying here in Silicon Valley, it's disgusting," Schwartz said, adding that it's shocking that "Tesla has allowed this kind of widespread bullying to go on for so long."

Tesla's lawyers did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

All of the respondents said they heard a particular racial slur used, and more than half said they heard supervisors and managers use that word, according to a statement summarizing the statements.

Dozens also said higher-ups directed the racial slur at them, the summary said, and nearly half said they experienced or saw other black workers tasked with more physically demanding and disciplined tasks more frequently.

Production associate Albert Blakes said in his statement that it was difficult to go to work, knowing that he would face racist slurs, references to slavery and offensive graffiti for 12 hours straight. He said that he filed a verbal complaint with human resources in late 2021, but never received a response and nothing changed.

“Something must be done to hold Tesla accountable for the racism taking place at the Fremont factory to set an example that this racism is not tolerated in California workplaces,” he said.

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