Tesla Is Countersuing a Civil Rights Agency in the Company’s Latest Racism Court Battle

Tesla filed a countersuit against the California Civil Rights Department (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) this week. The action comes in response to the state agency’s ongoing lawsuit against the automaker, which alleges that the company has operated a “racially segregated workplace,” at its Fremont, California Gigafactory.

The electric car maker has been trying to get out of the suit since before the state even publicly filed its complaint. One day before the case was officially brought to state court, Tesla denied the claims within the lawsuit and called the whole thing “misguided,” in a public blog post.

Then, the company motioned for the case to be dismissed, in an attempt that was struck down by a state judge. The company also filed a petition with California’s Office of Administrative Law, claiming that the state civil rights agency did not follow proper protocol in filing its suit against Tesla.

In that complaint, the automaker alleged that CRD did not provide enough specifics of its investigation before filing their suit and that the agency did not engage in “good faith conciliation and mediation.” A Judge determined the OLA petition was not grounds for a pause of the original suit against the company.

However, the OLA complaint appears to be the basis of the new countersuit. In the filing, Tesla repeated the claim that CRD adopted “underground regulations,” in its probes of Tesla’s factory. The car company also reaffirmed that California officials did not offer adequate notice of their allegations, nor attempt to resolve the dispute prior to suing, according to a report from Bloomberg.

From Bloomberg:

The department’s conduct “is entirely inconsistent with the principles of fair notice, neutral investigations, good faith conciliation, and mandatory pre-suit mediation,” required under state employment law, Tesla said in its complaint filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court. The suit was brought unlawfully without seeking public comment or holding a hearing, according to the complaint.

CRD began investigating Tesla “after receiving hundreds of complaints from workers,” Kevin Kish said in a statement, as reported by The Verge. The agency’s subsequent lawsuit contains disturbing accounts of what employees say they faced at the factory. It catalogs allegations of frequent racial slurs from both peers and management, racist graffiti left up for months at a time, as well as a discriminatory system of punishment and reward.

From The Verge:

They report that Black employees were given the most physically demanding jobs in the factory, and told they were “better suited” to such work. Black workers say they were more frequently penalized for minor workplace infractions than non-Black colleagues, and that they were more often denied promotions. As a result, they were underrepresented in Tesla’s management. A 2020 diversity report from Tesla said Black workers made up 10 percent of its workforce and 4 percent of its leadership.

California’s lawsuit against the company is one of many racial discrimination suits the company has faced. In July, a group of Black Tesla employees filed a separate suit against the automaker over their experiences working in the same Fremont factory. A few months prior, a Black worker at Tesla’s Lathrop sub-assembly plant filed her own lawsuit.

Back in 2021, Owen Diaz, a former Tesla worker won a racial bias case against the automaker and was awarded $US137 ($190) million in damages for the abuse he faced (a federal judge later reduced those damages to $US15 ($21) million , citing the legal limit). And back in 2017 Marcus Vaughn, another Tesla employee, filed a suit on behalf of over 100 Black workers he alleged faced abuse. In response, CEO Elon Musk reportedly told workers at his company that they should “be thick-skinned and accept an apology.”

Tesla moved its headquarters from California to Texas in October 2021, but still continues to operate its Fremont factory.

The automaker has also faced multiple complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Currently, the company is under investigation by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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