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Tesla factory is “racially segregated workplace,” Calif. state agency alleges

Aerial view of a Tesla factory with a large parking lot filled with cars.
Enlarge / Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sued Tesla on Wednesday, alleging systemic racial segregation in the workplace.

“After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish said in a statement published in a Wall Street Journal article and a Bloomberg story.

The lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court but doesn’t appear to be publicly available yet. We asked DFEH for a copy of the lawsuit and will update this story if we get it. (Update at 7 pm ET: Here’s the lawsuit.)

In October 2021, a federal jury awarded $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black worker who alleged that Tesla failed to take reasonable steps to prevent racist abuse at the Fremont factory. Tesla is also facing lawsuits from seven women over allegations of rampant sexual harassment at factory facilities in California.

Tesla slams agency for filing lawsuit

Tesla slammed the DFEH lawsuit in a blog post yesterday, saying the case “follows a three-year investigation during which the DFEH—whose mission is supposedly to protect workers—has never once raised any concern about current workplace practices at Tesla. Rather, the lawsuit appears focused on alleged misconduct by production associates at the Fremont factory that took place between 2015 and 2019.”

Tesla said it will ask the court to pause the case and claimed that “despite repeated requests, the DFEH has declined to provide Tesla with the specific allegations or the factual bases for its lawsuit.” Tesla also claimed the lawsuit is an attempt to “generate publicity,” writing:

Over the past five years, the DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions by individuals who believe they were discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. On every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, it did not find misconduct against Tesla. It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla. A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof.

Tesla said it “has always disciplined and terminated employees who engage in misconduct, including those who use racial slurs or harass others in different ways,” and “recently rolled out an additional training program that reinforces Tesla’s requirement that all employees must treat each other with respect and reminds employees about the numerous ways they can report concerns, including anonymously.” Tesla also claims in its blog post that it is “the last remaining automobile manufacturer in California” and that the “Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.”

“Attacking a company like Tesla that has done so much good for California should not be the overriding aim of a state agency with prosecutorial authority,” Tesla wrote.

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