Former Tesla Worker Awarded $3.2m in Racial Abuse Lawsuit

tesla Owen Diaz e1680775965984

A federal jury in San Francisco awarded approximately $3.2 million to a former Tesla employee who filed a racial abuse lawsuit against the electric-car manufacturer on Monday. According to the New York Post, the money was given to Owen Diaz after it was discovered that Tesla did nothing to address serious racial harassment at its California assembly plant.

The verdict comes after another jury ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $137 million in 2021. The verdict was the largest ever awarded in an employment discrimination case in US history at the time.

According to How Africa, a federal judge eventually reduced the amount to $15 million and gave Diaz two weeks to accept the payout, but he refused and requested a new trial.

Diaz worked as a contracted elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory between 2015 and 2016. Diaz claimed in his 2017 lawsuit that he was subjected to harassment and “daily racist epithets” while at the facility. Diaz claimed that workers at the plant used racist slurs, including the “N-word.”

Diaz also alleged swastikas and racist graffiti were drawn on company property by employees, adding that supervisors did not put in the effort to bring the abuse to an end. “Tesla’s progressive image was a façade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the lawsuit stated.

Diaz sought $160 million in retrial damages, but the jury awarded him $175,000 for emotional distress and $3 million in punitive damages. Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to the verdict by tweeting that the decision “would’ve been zero” if the judge had given the company permission to present new evidence.

“Jury did the best they could with the information they had. I respect the decision,” Musk added.

During Friday’s closing arguments, Diaz’s lawyer, Bernard Alexander, asked the jury to award his client the aforementioned amount in order to deter other large corporations from allowing workplace discrimination, according to the New York Post.

“Mr. Diaz’s outlook on the world has been permanently changed,” Alexander said. “That is what happens when you take away a person’s safety.”

Tesla’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, claimed Diaz was a confrontational employee who blew his emotional distress claims out of proportion. He also said the Black man’s lawyers were unable to prove if Tesla caused any severe or permanent damage.

“They’re just throwing numbers up on the screen like this is some kind of game show,” said Spiro.

Tesla’s lawyers also claimed Diaz’s testimony was false, and that the plaintiff failed to file written complaints with his superiors. However, Diaz testified in court that he filed several verbal complaints and discussed the issues with human resources officials at the company.

Tesla is also being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). According to TechCrunch, the DFEH accuses the company of subjecting its Black Fremont factory workers to racism and harassment.

After Tesla filed an appeal, the $137 million award to Diaz was reduced to $15 million. Diaz was supposed to receive $600,000, according to the electric-vehicle manufacturer.

According to TechCrunch, a federal district judge in San Francisco, William Orrick, reduced the compensatory and punitive damages to $1.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively, after ruling that he could not establish a controlling question of law to support a prompt appeal of the reduced payout.

The judge also stated that he was convinced the initial amount awarded to Diaz by the jury was excessive, and that allowing a prompt appeal “would further delay resolution of a case that is already five years old.”

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