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Tesla Is a 'Hotbed For Racist Behavior,' Worker Claims In Lawsuit (bloomberg.com) 300

An African-American employee has filed a lawsuit against Tesla, claiming their production floor is a "hotbed for racist behavior" and that black workers at the electric carmaker suffer severe and pervasive harassment. "The employee says he's one of more than 100 African-American Tesla workers affected and is seeking permission from a judge to sue on behalf of the group," reports Bloomberg. "He's seeking unspecified general and punitive monetary damages as well as an order for Tesla to implement policies to prevent and correct harassment." From the report: "Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, its standard operating procedure at the Tesla factory is pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination," the employee said in the complaint, filed Monday in California's Alameda County Superior Court. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Marcus Vaughn, who worked in the Fremont factory from April 23 to Oct. 31. Vaughn alleged that employees and supervisors regularly used the "N word" around him and other black colleagues. Vaughn said he complained in writing to human resources and Musk and was terminated in late October for "not having a positive attitude."

Tesla Is a 'Hotbed For Racist Behavior,' Worker Claims In Lawsuit

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  • I'm glad to live in a country where a guy like this can sue the Tesla. Hopefully, he had the presence of mind to record them or get some hard evidence. EEOC complaints can be an effective avenue, so can a discrimination lawsuit. The only way to stop this kind of behavior is to bow-up and fight back.
    • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @06:28PM (#55551007) Homepage

      Seven Spirals announced:

      I'm glad to live in a country where a guy like this can sue the Tesla. Hopefully, he had the presence of mind to record them or get some hard evidence. EEOC complaints can be an effective avenue, so can a discrimination lawsuit. The only way to stop this kind of behavior is to bow-up and fight back.

      I'm glad to live in a country where the legal system provides a means of redress for harassment in the workplace - which is not quite the same thing you seem to be happy about.

      As one of those rare /.ers who actually reads TFA which TFS summarizes (ahem), let me point out a couple of key quotes that are not included in the clickbait summary, above:

      A Tesla assembly line worker sued in March, claiming the company did little to stop co-workers from harassing him. In August, a judge sent the case to arbitration. A judge also partly granted Tesla’s request to compel arbitration in a case of a woman who sued in November 2016 complaining about pervasive harassment.

      At a guess (and this is only a guess, because I haven't read the judge's order), the judge in the first case sent the case to arbitration because the evidence against Tesla was something short of compelling. But, let's continue:

      According to Monday’s complaint, Musk sent an email to Tesla factory employees on May 31.

      "Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group." Musk wrote in the email. "Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology."

      "The law doesn’t require you to have a thick skin," [the plaintiff's attorney] said in an interview Monday. "Tesla is not doing enough. It’s somewhat akin to saying ‘stop being politically correct.’ When you have a diverse workforce, you need to take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workforce."

      The first two paragraphs make it pretty clear that Musk disapproves of casual expressions of racism. His general memos carry more than a little weight at his company. Ask any of his employees about that.

      The third paragraph presents the plaintiff's attorney's opinion as fact. That's a commonplace lawyerly PR tactic designed to allow the barrister to define the bounds of the dispute. Any competent judge is going to ignore it, and instruct the jury to ignore it, as well, because, under the law, you do not have to "take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workplace." What you have to do is take whatever steps are necessary to end racial harrassment of the plaintiff in your workplace - which is not quite the same thing.

      The fact that the attorney in question has applied to the judge for class action status makes it quite clear that he, at least, understands that at least as well as I do. (IANAL) Whether the jurist who's hearing the case will grant that status is a good question. Unless I miss my guess, his decision whether to do so will depend heavily on the case the plaintiff's lawyer makes for pervasive racial harassment at Tesla during pre-trial hearings.

      What we actually, verifiably know is that Marcus Vaughn, who worked at Tesla for six months, is suing Tesla in Alameda County Superior Court for allegedly failing to prevent racial discrimination against him, and that his lawyer, Larry Organ, an attorney at the California Civil Rights Law Group, has petitioned the judge to award his case class action status. That's it, that's all. Presuming culpability on Tesla's part is premature, to say the least, particularly in view of a previous case making the same general allegations having been referred by the judge to binding arbitration, rather than being permitted to g

      • The third paragraph presents the plaintiff's attorney's opinion as fact. That's a commonplace lawyerly PR tactic designed to allow the barrister to define the bounds of the dispute. Any competent judge is going to ignore it, and instruct the jury to ignore it, as well, because, under the law, you do not have to "take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workplace." What you have to do is take whatever steps are necessary to end racial harrassment of the plaintiff in your workplace - which is not quite the same thing.

        Absolutely correct.

        Hostile work environments, harassment, etc. aren't about being mean, insensitive, etc. You can be an ass to your employees all you want, as long as you're fair about it.
        You can't have a pattern (or an extreme isolated incident) of targeting individuals or groups.

      • but if I was going to file a discrimination suit I'd try to keep it out of the feds. We had 8 years of right wing presidents (debatable 16 since Clinton was pretty right wing) followed by 8 years of blocked judicial appointments. I'm not so sure you're going to get anywhere with a federal suit. The courts are pretty well stacked in the other camp. People forget just how much power a president with a compliant congress has over our legal system...
      • Don't worry - it's no better in urban southern Ohio.

        One of the first things that opened my eyes when I moved here from Portland, is the casual racism (read: incredible ignorance) that some people display.

    • "bow-up"?

      Is that like an "epic clap back"?
    • by Charcharodon ( 611187 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @08:48PM (#55551597)
      What also is great when it turns out to be a frivolous lawsuit he has to pay Tesla's legal bills. Isn't America wonderful?

      Some of the items he is complaining about:

      Having to show up to work on time.
      Having to be productive at work.
      Not being able to blame his poor work performance on "racist crackers"
      Being openly hostile towards his co-workers and then not getting invited out for beer after going on daily rants about how racists everyone is around here
      The fact that they actually expect him to come to work during Black History Month instead of attending "whitey is a racists workshops"

      Oh wait I'm confusing this guy with guys that I had to serve with while I was in the Air Force.

      Hey maybe he has a point or more likely he was told that his performance sucked and if he didn't shape up he would be let go during next year's round of low performer culling.

  • Uh huh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @05:08PM (#55550463)

    So was an Air Force Academy recently until it was found out that the very same person who was pitching a fit about " racism " was also the same person who wrote the slur on the wall to begin with.

    • So was an Air Force Academy recently until it was found out that the very same person who was pitching a fit about " racism " was also the same person who wrote the slur on the wall to begin with.

      Possibly, but if it were a fake complaint your evidence would be something that's hard to corroborate like a private conversation or a racist slur written somewhere.

      But this guy alleges employees and supervisors regularly used the "N word" around him and other black colleagues. In other words he's stating there's a bunch of witnesses to multiple incidents, witnesses that can easily back up or refute his story.

      If you were going to invent a claim out of mid air you wouldn't assert a bunch of non-existent witn

      • Witnesses he is trying to include in the settlement money payout. That doesn't make for an unbiased statement.

        seeking permission from a judge to sue on behalf of the group

        All members of the group stand to gain financially.

        • Witnesses he is trying to include in the settlement money payout. That doesn't make for an unbiased statement.

          seeking permission from a judge to sue on behalf of the group

          All members of the group stand to gain financially.

          So you're alleging a conspiracy now? All the black folks are going to say one thing and all the white folks another?

          I suppose it's possible... though really unlikely.

          There are three plausible scenarios here:
          1) The complainant is completely accurate and Tesla has an outspoken group of racist employees in its factory that it has failed to deal with.
          2) The complainant is partially accurate, but the problem isn't as widespread as they imply.
          3) The complainant is completely making it up (and will quickly be foun

          • So you're alleging a conspiracy now? All the black folks are going to say one thing and all the white folks another?

            I suppose it's possible... though really unlikely.

            It doesn't need to be all. Just some.

            If he's seeking to add 100+ people to the class, they only need to find a handful willing to testify that they experienced such treatment to have a good chance of convincing Tesla to fork out cash.

            The defense could literally parade every other member of the class through court. The prosecution would have 2 questions for such witnesses: Did you experience this yourself? (No.) Can you say for sure that others did not experience it? (No.)

            The prosecution only has to show that it happened to one class member if granted class status (since the claim is that the entire class is victimized by the behavior even if it wasn't direct/overt for all members). The defense has to show that it didn't happen to any.

            If you don't think you can get a handful of people in a group of 100+ to lie for personal gain, regardless of the makeup of that group, you're a fool.

          • Re:Uh huh (Score:4, Insightful)

            by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @08:08PM (#55551443)

            or 2.5) The complainant is partially accurate and the problem wasn't as widespread as they implied, and Tesla has already dealt with it but the complainant wants money.

            see sexconker's reply for an answer to you thinking I'm implying an alleged conspiracy.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        At West Point, the Perp confessed. No, he was not a person of pallor.

    • The lawsuit purports to have an email from Elon Musk, himself, that is pretty damning.

      According to Monday’s complaint, Musk sent an email to Tesla factory employees on May 31. “Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group,” Musk wrote in the email. “Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”

      Anything less than a zero tolerance policy from the the CEO is grounds for a lawsuit. The fact that the employee making the complaint was subsequently fired is the final straw.

      • That doesn't appear to be a very damning email.

        Next thing you'll be saying is "anything less that execution of the highest management of the company is unacceptable!"

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          So if the exchange went like this...

          Listen, I'm sorry I called you a lazy nig*er. That wasn't right, I should have called you a motivationally challenged African American. Sorry. Now get over it.

      • You must live in a sad place where what you're writing is true.
        • I live a place where racial discrimination in the workplace is illegal and where CEOs are expected to at least make token effort to comply with the law.
          • Would you rather have a CEO writing his honest opinion in an email, or some HR-sanitized boiler plate that is immediately ignored by all (including HR) and deleted from the inbox ?

            This sounds like Musk heard there may have been some issues with employee conduct, and he pulled out his phone and tapped out an email right then and there.

      • Anything less than a zero tolerance policy from the the CEO is grounds for a lawsuit.

        Only because you can sue for anything, and nothing.
        You can have whatever policy (or no policy). That wouldn't be grounds for a successful lawsuit

      • Yeah, except that this is the official language that even HR uses in the employee handbook at Tesla, as documented many places you can find on Google. And, on the first day you are told that if you see a problem, you talk to whoever is best equipped to fix it fast - and that includes sending an email to Elon Musk if that's what it takes.

        If there's casual racism being thrown about, and the immediate supervisor of the racists is unwilling to do jack shit about it, why didn't this guy take up that invitation

    • Unions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @05:44PM (#55550715) Homepage

      This is coming from the unions who want into the plant. Notice how they are checking every box with race, gender, sexuality? Tesla said no so now the unions file frivolous lawsuits.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <[moc.cam] [ta] [rcj]> on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @05:19PM (#55550543) Journal

    Tossing off any racial epithet around here in the silicon valley is likely to make half of the people within earshot fall down in a swoon, and the other half going apeshit over it on twitter within milliseconds. The odds of this allegation turning out to be utter bullshit is approaching unity.

    -jcr

    • I also have know idea if any of what is being alleged is actually true; however, your experience in white collar silicon valley land is most likely different than what happens on a factory production floor (tech company or not).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

      Tossing off any racial epithet around here in the silicon valley is likely to make half of the people within earshot fall down in a swoon, and the other half going apeshit over it on twitter within milliseconds.

      Sort of like what happens in the South when a football player takes a knee.

  • With the massive lay-offs at Tesla recently I have to wonder, was this man simply layed off because of poor performance and trying to get money some other way now?

    I'm not saying Tesla isn't racist, I have no clue what goes on in the company but it seems that he's been happy to work at the "racist" company until he got fired.

  • I find it rather odd that he and his lawyers are trying to sue on behalf of a group of more then 100 people when he is the only one to have come forward with allegations
    • If someone was willing to sue on your behalf (you get to participate in the upside if they win), why on earth would you come forward? To get fired when the case gets filed and/or when the case loses?

  • Culpability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @05:40PM (#55550687)
    As a human being, I hang my head in shame for the fact that, in the 21st century, we still have to deal with racism. I just wish we could all grow up and behave like the advanced species we claim to be.

    One aspect of this story particularly interests me - and it might be a subtle, legal point - which is: what is/are the responsibilities of "Tesla the Company", with respect to tackling and preventing racism in the workplace?

    I am not for one moment suggesting that the claims of this plaintiff are anything less than genuine. What interests me is: as an employer, where do Tesla's responsibilities stop? Do they have to have anti-racism training for their staff? Do they have to have a grievance procedure? Do they have to have an anonymous whistleblowing program? Are there other things that an employer needs to demonstrate in order to avoid accusations of institutional racism?

    The reason I ask the original question is that it seems to me that we need to understand the difference between "Tesla the Company" and "Tesla's Other Employees". I would be willing to accept the words of the complaint that suggest that some employees at Tesla are out-and-out racists. I would hope that Tesla are doing all they can to identify and expel such people. But does the presence of one or more racist employees at any company mean that the company itself is racist?

    If not, how do we make the differentiation? Is it when 10% of employees are racist? 20%? Is it if the company fails to handle accusations of racism appropriately - and, if so, what does "appropriate handling" need to include?

    This is a sensitive, emotive and hugely important topic for us as a society: it is, perhaps, one of the defining aspects of human history over the last few hundred years, so I think that our response to this - as individuals, employers, colleagues and friends - is hugely important.

    But much as I'm concerned by these claims and would want to see some solid evidence of a reasonable response to them, I'm struggling to make the leap from "a number of employees at Company X demonstrated racist behaviour" as being equal to "Company X is racist".

    Is this reasonable skepticism, or is this splitting hairs that an unethical company would hide behind? Is it fair to make the distinction? What would be the indicators you would look for, in a case like this, before you would conclude that a company was racist?
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Most jurisdictions require companies to act when they become aware of racism. Presumably management were made aware somehow (complaint, saw it happening) and failed to act of he is intending to sue.

    • As a human being, I don't hang my head in shame for the poor decisions other humans make. That would be deeply narcissistic and irrationally collectivist. Instead, I realize they too are only human and make mistakes and give into hatred to try to compensate for their losses or retaliate for perceived wrongs.

      I also understand that some, typically those without actual problems of their own, seek to feel guilt and shame by taking on the woes of society as their own personal plight, often without even unders
    • I just wish we could all grow up and behave like the advanced species we claim to be.

      Advanced species? Are you on drugs?

      One aspect of this story particularly interests me - and it might be a subtle, legal point - which is: what is/are the responsibilities of "Tesla the Company", with respect to tackling and preventing racism in the workplace?

      Tesla is a daycare facility.

      I am not for one moment suggesting that the claims of this plaintiff are anything less than genuine.

      In what way if any is this non suggestion different from the following:
      I am not for one moment suggesting that the claims of this plaintiff have merit.

      What interests me is: as an employer, where do Tesla's responsibilities stop?

      Depends on how good lawyers are at capturing the legal system. Ultimately the right answer: liability is infinite and responsibilities never end.

      Do they have to have an anonymous whistleblowing program?

      That's hot.

      Are there other things that an employer needs to demonstrate in order to avoid accusations of institutional racism?

      Accusations + clickbait media + social media = utopian paradise

      The reason I ask the original question is that it seems to me that we need to understand the difference between "Tesla the Company" and "Tesla's Other Employees"

      Corporations are people, my friend.

      But does the presence of one or more racist employees at any company mean that the company itself is racist?

      If not, how do we make the differentiation? Is it when 10% of employees are racist? 20%? Is it if the company fails to handle accusations of racism appropriately - and, if so, what does "appropriate handling" need to include?

      What percentage of Chinese have to be involved in hax0r1ng before it is safe to declare all of China hax0rz?

      But much as I'm concerned by these claims and would want to see some solid evidence of a reasonable response to them, I'm struggling to make the leap from "a number of employees at Company X demonstrated racist behaviour" as being equal to "Company X is racist".

      Failure to take the leap is a strong indicator you condone and actively support racist behavior. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go geo-ban all Chinese datagrams from China.

      Is this reasonable skepticism, or is this splitting hairs that an unethical company would hide behind? Is it fair to make the distinction? What would be the indicators you would look for, in a case like this, before you would conclude that a company was racist?

      +++
      ATH

    • Victim files written complaint with HR. HR Reviews the complaint, meets with all parties, requires the "aggressor" to take sensitivity training, and reiterates a policy of non-discrimination to all employees.

      Repeat offenses lead to termination.

      Check all boxes, and the company has done what it needs to do.

    • Tesla employs over 50,000 people world wide. I'd be shocked if there *weren't* racists in the mix.

      A company's managers have the responsibility under state and federal law to maintain a hostility-free workplace, which includes being free of discrimination against protected groups defined by law, which includes race. If this guy can show that there was racial discriminatory behavior that went unchallenged and uncorrected by the management at multiple levels, then he has a case. But that's a hard one to pro

  • ...terminated in late October for "not having a positive attitude."

    I love the bullshit reasons they come up with when they lay you off. I was was overworked at Hard Rock Cafe as a dish washer on minimum wage for one summer years ago when I was still a student. The washing machine broke down regularly meaning I had to hand wash everything during the lunch and evening rushes and I was doing a two man job even when the damn machine worked and cleaning out all the crusty kitchen pots as well. Needless to say I was none too happy about that and made this known. Eventually they

    • Was the guy bald, 5 nothing, in his 30's and act like a little hitler? ...Seems to always be that guy. I could never figure out if they actually drank the koolaid that heavy or if they are that desperate to be a manager over "something".

  • When you don't make your extortion payments to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @07:11PM (#55551209)

    >> Vaughn alleged that employees and supervisors regularly used the "N word" around him and other black colleagues.

    I wonder what ratio of the employees and supervisors using the N word were also black?

  • by SJ ( 13711 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @07:20PM (#55551255)

    Elon was born in Africa, now he's American. Wouldn't that make him an African-American as well?

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      Elon was born in Africa, now he's American. Wouldn't that make him an African-American as well?

      We may not have all been born in Africa, but we likely all originated from Africa [wikipedia.org]...
      Does that make us all African-American? Or do you arbitrarily stop labeling at the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation? Or is the phrase "African-American" simply a modern euphemism for people that have retained a specific skin melanin phenotype/genotype?

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:42AM (#55552569)

    Isn't this getting a bit old and lame? All we hear about Tesla here on /. is how they are keeping the unions out and how the are a hive of horrors for workers.
    Can we stop with the propaganda and get back to the techie stuff that keeps us reading here.

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