Tesla Inc. failed to prevent hostile acts of racism in the workplace against a black former contract worker, a California jury determined this week — and now the company is on the hook for $137 million.
What are the details?
The San Francisco panel of jurors on Monday ordered the Elon Musk-led company to pay the unprecedented sum to Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator who worked at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory for nine months in 2015 and 2016, Bloomberg News reported.
According to the Verge, during his time working for the company, Diaz alleged that he was attacked on a daily basis over the color of his skin and that supervisors failed to step in and address the situation.
Diaz told the court that "daily racist epithets" were used in the plant, including the n-word; that racist graffiti and cartoons appeared in his workspace and the toilets; and that he was told to "go back to Africa" by colleagues. Supervisors failed to consistently intervene in these issues, said Diaz, and the stress of the situation caused him to suffer weight loss and "sleepless nights."
Diaz also told the jury, "Some days I would just sit on my stairs and cry."
The jury's award surpassed the amount Diaz's attorneys had requested and included $6.9 million for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages, CNBC reported.
"I believe that's the largest verdict in an individual race discrimination in employment case," David Oppenheimer, a clinical professor of law at the University of California Berkeley, told Bloomberg. "Class actions are of course in a different category."
In a response blog post posted Monday, Tesla's vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, defended the company against the verdict and said she "was at the defense table for Tesla every day during the trial because [she] wanted to hear firsthand what Mr. Diaz said happened to him."
She noted while multiple employees testified that they regularly hear the N-word at the Fremont factory, those employees "agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a 'friendly' manner and usually by African-American colleagues."
"They also told the jury about racist graffiti in the bathrooms, which was removed by our janitorial staff," she continued. "There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the N-word used toward Mr. Diaz."
Workman added that "the three times that Mr. Diaz did complain about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies," noting that "two contractors were fired and one was suspended."
"We strongly believe that these facts don't justify the verdict," she concluded.