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Tesla must pay $137m to racially harassed former worker

Carmaker Tesla has been ordered to pay almost $137m (£101m) in damages for failing to stop a black former worker at its Fresno plant from being abused.

Owen Diaz, a lift operator from 2015 to 2016, was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, a federal court in San Francisco found.

Mr Diaz claimed black workers regularly faced racist slurs on the factory floor and racist graffiti in bathrooms.

Tesla disputed the verdict but said it recognised it was “not perfect”.

Mr Diaz’s lawsuit alleged African-American workers “encountered a scene straight from the Jim Crow era” at the electric carmaker’s Fremont factory.

It said colleagues used racial epithets “daily” and told Mr Diaz to “go back to Africa”.

“Tesla’s progressive image was a facade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” it said.

Despite complaints to supervisors, the court found Tesla did not take reasonable steps to tackle the abuse.

On Monday, the jury at the San Francisco court awarded Mr Diaz $130m in punitive damages and $6.9m for emotional distress, according to Mr Diaz’s attorneys.

One of them, Lawrence Organ of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said he hoped the high penalty would spur change.

“It’s gratifying to know that a jury’s willing to hold Tesla accountable, one of the world’s largest, richest corporations finally is told, ‘You can’t let this kind of thing happen at your factory,'” he told the Washington Post.

‘We’re still not perfect’

In a message to employees shared on Tesla’s website, the firm’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, said she “strongly” believed the verdict was unjustified. The carmaker had responded in a “timely” way to Mr Diaz’s complaints, she said.

She added: “We do recognise 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.”

She said the firm had added an employee relations team, dedicated to investigating complaints, and a diversity team focused on ensuring equal opportunities at Tesla.

Black employees made up just 4% of Tesla US leadership roles and 10% of its total workforce in the country, according to its first diversity report published in December,

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