Ex-Tesla contractor who is black rejects $15 million reward in racial harassment lawsuit

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By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN

A black former contract worker at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., has turned down a judge’s offer for a reduced payment of $15 million in damages, paving the way for a possible new trial of his affair. Tesla had requested a new trial after the man was initially awarded nearly $137 million in a racial harassment lawsuit.

In October of last year, a federal jury found that Owen Diaz was subjected to a racist workplace while working at a Tesla factory in 2015 and 2016. In that case, he said regularly heard racial slurs, including the n-word, on the factory floor, and saw racist graffiti in the bathrooms and a racially insensitive cartoon.

Diaz was awarded $136.9 million in damages after the jury found in his favor. But the following month, Tesla filed a request for a new trial. But before deciding whether or not to allow that retrial, U.S. District Judge William Orrick gave Diaz the option of accepting a dramatically reduced $15 million in damages, saying in court papers that the Initial award of damages was “excessive” upon review. how long Diaz has been employed at the plant and “the absence of illness or physical injury”.

Diaz had worked as a contractor at Tesla for nine months. He has worked as a bus driver in Oakland since leaving the company.

On Tuesday, Diaz’s attorneys filed their formal response to the judge’s offer, rejecting the $15 million. The filing is expected to result in a new trial.

“The 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that ‘no fact adjudged by a jury shall otherwise be reconsidered by a court of the United States,'” Lawrence Organ, Diaz’s attorney, told CNN in a statement Wednesday. “Yet our court system favors requests from corporate defendants to reconsider jury verdicts in civil rights cases. It’s part of a systemic bias that underestimates the suffering African Americans endure in the workplace.

Tesla sued for racial discrimination in California lawsuit

The damages awarded by the jury included $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages. The case was decided by an eight-person jury in San Francisco, including a black juror, according to Organ.

“In rejecting the excessive curtailment of the court by seeking a new trial, Mr. Diaz is again asking a jury of his peers to assess what Tesla did to him and provide just compensation for the torrent of racial slurs that were addressed to him,” Organ said.

“Further, Mr. Diaz seeks to restore a fair and equitable award of punitive damages that will punish and deter Tesla for the racist conduct to which Mr. Diaz was subjected and prevent any future harassment from occurring.”

CNN reached out to Tesla for comment but did not hear back.

After the verdict, in an October blog post on the company’s website, the head of Tesla’s human resources department said the automaker firmly believes “these facts do not support the verdict.”

“We recognize that in 2015 and 2016, we weren’t perfect. We’re still not perfect,” Valerie Capers Workman, then Tesla vice president of people, wrote in the blog post.

“But we have come a long way in 5 years. We continue to grow and improve how we respond to employee concerns. »

Workman, who is black, wrote that there were no witnesses Diaz was called the n-word. And she claimed that although witnesses said they “regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor”, she said “most of the time they thought that the language was used in a “friendly” manner and generally by African-American colleagues.

Workman said the three times Diaz filed harassment complaints, “Tesla stepped in and ensured ‘responsive and timely action’ was taken by recruitment agencies,” resulting in the firing of two pennies. -contractors and the suspension of one who had drawn a racially insensitive caricature.

“But he only complained about the n-word after he wasn’t hired full-time by Tesla — and after he hired a lawyer,” Workman’s blog post said.

Tesla never presented evidence of those contractors’ firings in court or during the discovery process, Organ said, and the Tesla supervisor accused of harassing Diaz was not fired. Tesla has not commented beyond Workman’s statement.

Workman left Tesla in January of this year.

Previous claims of being a racially hostile workplace

This is not the first time employees have claimed the Fremont plant is a racist workplace.

Last May, Melvin Berry, a former Tesla employee, won a million-dollar judgment after an arbitrator found he had been called racial slurs by supervisors and subjected to other behavior racists.

In 2017, three employees claimed Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant was so hostile to black workers it was “straight out of the Jim Crow era,” one assembly line worker said others complained. mocked her pants calling them ‘tight gay’ and an engineer said she was mocked and cat called the factory and was fired from the company after filing a lawsuit alleging discrimination based on gender gender, including for unequal pay.

Tesla disputed the employees’ accounts in a statement to the LA Times earlier this year. Tesla told the newspaper that “the three workers did not complain to the company of racism and any discipline they received was the result of their own behavior at work.”

Due to the terms of employment at Tesla, Berry was not allowed to take legal action like Diaz was able to, but had to go to arbitration. The organ also represented Berry.

Tesla now requires all subcontractors working at the plant to also agree to disputes being resolved through arbitration rather than in court, Organ said.

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