Jury reduces Tesla's $137 million racism lawsuit penalty to $3.2 million

The lawsuit was filed by a former Black worker who accused the company of enabling a racist workplace.

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Back in 2021, a San Francisco court ordered Tesla to pay Owen Diaz, a former Black contract worker who accused the company of enabling a racist workplace, $137 million in damages. It was one of the highest amounts awarded to an individual suing on the basis of discrimination, but the appeals that followed had lowered it significantly. While US District Judge William Orrick affirmed the jury's original verdict, he found the original damages awarded to Diaz "excessive" and lowered the total to $15 million. Now, a San Francisco federal jury has reduced the amount even further and has ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $3.2 million only.

The former elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant rejected the $15 million award Orrick had proposed and instead sought for a retrial. In the latest hearing, Diaz again recounted his experiences working for Tesla, where he said he and his fellow Black workers were subjected to racial slurs. He also said that he was made to feel unsafe at work and that other workers left drawings of swastika and racist graffiti, such as Inki the Caveman, in his workspace and the company restrooms.

Diaz's lawyers urged the jury to penalize Tesla, a company currently worth over $600 billion, an amount that will get its attention. But Tesla's lawyer Alex Spiro reportedly argued that Diaz should only be awarded half his salary. He apparently characterized Diaz as a liar in court, who misstated how long he worked at the automaker and who exaggerated his testimonies and the abuse he suffered to gain a bigger payout.

We may not be seeing the end to this case, though. According to the Los Angeles Times, Diaz's lawyer believes the jury decided on awarding him only $3 million in punitive damages and $175,000 in non-economic damages because he was wrongly attacked by the defense. He said Tesla's strategy to "minimize and sanitize" worked and that he has already filed a request for a new trial due to "misconduct."