SAN FRANCISCO – A federal court on Monday ordered Tesla to pay a former employee who alleged racial abuse at a plant in Fremont, California, nearly $137 million in damages.
Owen Diaz, who is Black, worked at the plant between 2015 and 2016 as a contracted elevator operator and alleged that “daily racial epithets,” including the “N-word,” were part of the persistent harassment. He also alleged that employees drew swastikas and left racist graffiti and drawings around the facility, The Guardian reported.
According to CNBC, the jury awarded more than attorneys asked for their client, including $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress.
“It took four long years to get to this point. It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders,” Diaz told The New York Times after the verdict.
The lawsuit also claimed that Tesla supervisors failed to stop the racial abuse, The Guardian reported.
It was not immediately clear if Tesla intends to appeal the order, and the company issued the following statement on Monday attributed to Vice President of Human Resources Valerie Capers Workman:
“While we strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect, but we have come a long way from five years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns. Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable.”
According to Diaz’s attorneys, J. Bernard Alexander with Alexander Morrison + Fehr LLP in Los Angeles and Larry Organ with the California Civil Rights Law Group in San Anselmo, the case was only heard because their client, who was contracted through a staffing company, had not signed one of Tesla’s mandatory arbitration agreements, CNBC reported.