SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla Inc.’s production floor is a “hotbed for racist behavior,” more than 100 African-American employees asserted in a lawsuit in which they alleged black workers at the electric carmaker suffer severe and pervasive harassment.
The employees are seeking permission from a judge to sue as a group and are seeking unspecified general and punitive monetary damages as well as an order for Tesla to implement policies to correct and prevent harassment.
“Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, its standard operating procedure at the Tesla factory is pre-civil rights era race discrimination,” the employees said in the complaint, filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court.
Tesla has roughly 33,000 employees globally but has never publicly released its diversity statistics. More than 10,000 employees work at its sole auto assembly plant in Fremont, Calif., where the United Auto Workers have launched a campaign to persuade workers to join the union. On Tesla’s most recent earnings call, chief executive officer Elon Musk acknowledged the company recently fired about 700 workers for low performance.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Marcus Vaughn, who worked in the Fremont factory from April 23 to Oct. 31. Vaughn alleged that employees and supervisors regularly used the “n word” around him and other black colleagues. Vaughn said he complained in writing to human resources and Musk and was terminated in late October for “not having a positive attitude.”
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Larry Organ, an attorney at the California Civil Rights Law Group, said that Vaughn reached out to him after the law firm sued Tesla on behalf of other African American employees who complained about racial harassment this year.
According to the complaint, Musk sent an e-mail to Tesla factory employees on May 31.
“Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group,” Musk wrote in the e-mail. “Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”
“The law doesn’t require you to have a thick skin,” Organ said in an interview Monday. “Tesla is not doing enough. It’s somewhat akin to saying ‘stop being politically correct.’ When you have a diverse workforce, you need to take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workforce.”