The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla for allegedly tolerating racial harassment of Black workers and allowing retaliation against workers when they complained, according to a suit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The suit alleges a pervasive pattern of racism against Black employees at the carmaker’s plant in Fremont, California, where one Tesla worker said that racial slurs were “casual and normal.”
The EEOC detailed the Tesla Fremont plant’s alleged violations since at least 2015 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black employees, the suit charges, were subject to routine racial harassment that included the use of slurs by non-Black workers, racist graffiti and other imagery, the consistent use of negative stereotypes, and insults and death threats.
Despite knowledge of the racial harassment, Tesla “failed and refused to take steps to address the behavior,” the suit claims. In addition, according to the filing, when Black workers reported or opposed their treatment, they faced retaliation such as scheduling changes, assignments to less desirable tasks, unjustified write-ups and termination.
The EEOC seeks back pay and damages for the affected workers as well as a court order for Tesla to redesign its anti-discrimination policies and programs to ensure equitable treatment of Black employees.
Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant has been the target of several lawsuits charging racial discrimination against Black workers. A lawsuit brought by 240 current and former Fremont workers is moving through the courts and may reach class-action status. Another former Fremont worker recently won $3.2 million in damages due to racial discrimination at Tesla.
California’s civil rights agency has also sued Tesla for allowing racial discrimination in its facilities. The California Civil Rights Department filed the lawsuit in February 2022 after a three-year investigation and “hundreds of complaints” from Black workers related to harassment, discrimination and a racially segregated workplace.
In a statement published just before the state civil rights agency filed suit in early 2022, Tesla stated that it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment” and that the suit was “unfair” in part “because the allegations focus on events from years ago.” The company also said the lawsuit was based on “a narrative … to generate publicity.”
Tesla has also violated labor law per the National Labor Relations Board. In 2022, NLRB ruled against Tesla after the company attempted to keep workers from wearing pro-union shirts. The board also voted against the carmaker the year prior, after the firing of a union supporter and CEO Elon Musk’s apparently threatening tweet that unionizing would result in workers losing stock options.