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Arbitrator Finds Tesla Liable for Workplace Harassment

September 28, 2021 | Employment Law

Melvin Berry worked for Tesla at the Fremont plant for just 17 months.  In that time, he was subject to racial slurs and discrimination from his superiors.  Reporting the behavior resulted in being assigned longer hours and exposure to more hostile treatment.  After his supervisors turned against him, he experienced increasing emotional stress and tearfulness, panic attacks and sleepless nights, sometimes doubting his own sanity. He filed suit in 2017, the same year a group of former Black workers filed suit against Tesla for alleged racial harassment and discrimination at the Fremont plant.  Approximately 10,000 of Tesla’s 80,000 global employees work at this plant in the San Francisco Bay area.

Tesla has vehemently denied the allegations in Berry’s case and others like it, saying in a 2017 statement that the company “is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind.”

In sworn testimony, employees involved in the other suit have said they faced racial slurs while working at Tesla, including one employee at the company’s Fremont factory who said that he was called the N-word “approximately 100 times” and that he saw KKK signs and swastika graffiti in bathroom stalls which was not promptly removed.

In 2019, Black and Latino workers at a Tesla factory in Buffalo, New York, filed discrimination complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New York Division of Human Rights.  The six former workers said they heard racial slurs and racist comments at the factory.

Tesla admitted the firm has “work to do” to be representative of the evolving US population after an internal diversity report showed Black people hold just 4% of leadership roles at the transportation company.

The arbitrator found Tesla liable for harassment because the slurs and discriminatory behavior came from supervisors and Tesla failed to take action every time Berry reported the behavior. “Case law is clear that one instance of a supervisor directing the N-word at a subordinate is sufficient to constitute severe harassment,” arbitrator Elaine Rushing said in her May 12 ruling.  Tesla was told to pay Melvin Barry more than $1 million, plus $266,278.50 in damages and emotional distress.