California is suing Tesla over 'racial discrimination and harassment'

Tesla called the lawsuit "unfair and unproductive."

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A Tesla vehicle drives past Tesla's primary vehicle factory after CEO Elon Musk announced he was defying local officials' coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions by reopening the plant in Fremont, California, U.S. May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Stephen Lam / reuters

A California civil rights agency has filed a lawsuit against Tesla for alleged racial discrimination and harassment at its Fremont factory, according to The Wall Street Journal. "After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace," said California Department of Fair Employment and Housing director Kevin Kish in a statement. 

The DFEH said Black employees were frequently exposed to racial slurs and graffiti, with one worker saying they heard such slurs 50 to 100 times per day. "Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment," said Kish.

Tesla called the lawsuit "unfair and unproductive" in a blog released prior to the complaint being made public. "Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints," the company wrote. "Tesla is also the last remaining automobile manufacturer in California. The Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians." It also said that over 50 previous DFEH investigations over the last five years were closed without any findings of misconduct.

Last October, Tesla was ordered to pay $137 million in damages to a former Black worker who accused the company of turning a blind eye to discrimination and racial abuse in 2015 and 2016. Tesla disagreed with the verdict, with a spokesperson saying the company was "not perfect" at that time but has "come a long way" since then. Tesla recently moved its corporate headquarters to Texas from California, but has also said it would expand its manufacturing activities by 50 percent in California. 

Tesla has previously tussled with the state of California over COVID-19 related plant closures, and isn't the only high-profile company in the DFEH's crosshairs. The agency recently sued Activision Blizzard for alleged harassment and discrimination against female employees. 

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