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Workplace Discrimination at Tesla Factory Detailed in New Court Documents

An industrial warehouse worker being the target of bullying

The treatment of black employees was allegedly so bad at a Tesla factory, people had nicknamed it "the plantation." In a reference to U.S. slavery, employees were also allegedly called "cotton pickers."

New details regarding allegations of a racist and discriminatory work environment at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory were recently revealed in new court documents. The papers were filed as part of ongoing efforts to launch a class-action lawsuit against the car manufacturing and technology company. An initial lawsuit alleging discrimination at the Fremont factory was filed by an ex-employee in 2017.

Earlier this year, a 500-page exhibit was filed to support the lawsuit. It includes statements from more than 100 former Tesla employees who say they were subject to or witness to race, gender, or age discrimination.

The majority of race-based discrimination claims were filed in 2018, but additional complaints were filed in 2019 and 2020, according to Protocol.

Discrimination lawsuit details

New court documents reportedly include allegations such as:

  • An ex-Tesla worker, who is black, says that he was called a racial slur about 100 times while working at the Fremont factory. He also says he saw racist words and images graffitied in the bathroom.
  • Black workers were unduly denied job promotions and forced to perform tasks below their pay grade.
  • Tesla allegedly knew about the problems and did nothing, according to court documents.

Headed by Elon Musk, Tesla responded to initial claims of discrimination in 2017 with a press release titled "Hotbed of misinformation." Tesla says it investigated complaints about hostile work conditions due to discrimination. The investigation led to several black and Hispanic employees being fired over allegations they used racial slurs and threatened violence, Tesla says. The statement includes an email from Musk to employees. It instructs employees to have "thick skin" and accept apologies when they feel excluded, uncomfortable or unfairly treated.

This email demonstrates a misunderstanding of the basic protections the law provides to U.S. workers.

Nowhere in federal or West Virginia law does it require employees facing discrimination to develop a "thick skin." It does, however, require employers to provide people with a workplace that is free of discrimination and harassment.

How common is workplace discrimination?

In West Virginia, an average of 7.7 discrimination complaints are made per 100,000 people. The state with the most discrimination complaints, according to a Paychex Worx study, is Alabama with 62.2 complaints filed per 100,000 people. Maine has the lowest complaint rate at 2.5.

Discrimination claims are complex. Employers rarely own up to their own ignorance, will frequently try to cover their misdeeds, and threaten employees to do the same. For those who do take action to protect their legal rights, employer retaliation is a common problem.

Workers' rights in West Virginia

The federal Civil Rights Act and the West Virginia Human Rights Act protect workers from unlawful discrimination in employment, among other protections. In West Virginia, it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace based on their:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age (40 years old and up)
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Blindness

Some people facing workplace discrimination think there's no way they can prove it because it was verbal or took the form of things that didn't happen, like promotions, tenure, or work privileges. But discrimination often leaves more evidence behind than people realize.

Evidence of workplace discrimination can include:

  • Testimony — Statements taken from people who have first-hand knowledge of what happened to you. Secondhand information can occasionally be useful as well.
  • Documents — Written records such as policies, procedures, letters, handwritten notes, files, computer files, tapes, recordings, attendance and production records, personal medical records (for disability cases), etc.
  • Statistics — Analysis of the effect workplace policies have on the treatment of one group over another.

How an attorney can help

Whether you work full-time, part-time, on a contract, as a gig, freelance, temp, salaried, or hourly, all workers have rights. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to fight to protect those rights. One way to do that is by contacting a workplace discrimination and harassment lawyer who can conduct a thorough investigation and build an evidence-based discrimination claim on your behalf.

Klie Law Offices offers free case evaluations to workers whose rights may have been violated by their employer. When you call our law firm, a member of our knowledgeable legal staff will listen to what happened, answer your questions, and let you know how we might be able to help. We can explain how the law applies to your specific situation and outline your legal options.

Contact us to schedule a free case review today. We have offices in Buckhannon and Parkersburg, and we proudly serve clients throughout West Virginia.

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