FREMONT, Calif. - Tesla Inc.'s production floor is a "hotbed for racist behavior," an African-American employee claimed in a lawsuit in which he is seeking that the Fremont carmaker implement policies to prevent and correct harassment.
Marcus Vaughn claimed in the suit that he's one of more than 100 African-American Tesla workers affected and is seeking permission from an Alameda County judge to sue on behalf of the group, Bloomberg first reported.
"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," Vaughn alleges.
Tesla did immediately respond to KTVU for comment on Tuesday, but later that evening did issue a lengthy statement titled 'Hotbed of Misinformation'.
In part, they said: Tesla is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind. When we hear complaints, we take them very seriously, investigate thoroughly and, if proven to be true, take immediate action.
Regarding yesterday's lawsuit, several months ago we had already investigated disappointing behavior involving a group of individuals who worked on or near Marcus Vaughn's team. At the time, our investigation identified a number of conflicting accusations and counter-accusations between several African-American and Hispanic individuals, alleging use of racial language, including the "n-word" and "w-word," towards each other and a threat of violence. After a thorough investigation, immediate action was taken, which included terminating the employment of three of the individuals.
Vaughn's attorneys, Bryan Schwartz and the California Civil Rights Group, maintain that, despite both verbal and written complaints to upper management and Human Resources of race-based harassment at the Tesla factory in Fremont, the company failed to take appropriate action to stop the pattern and practice of racist harassment of current and former African-American employees.
The harassment centers around Vaughn and other co-workers being called the "N" word by co-workers and supervisors, and then when they complained about it in writing to management and to CEO Elon Musk, either nothing was done or they faced "backlash," the suit claims.
According to the complaint, Musk sent an email to Tesla employees in May, a month after Vaughn started work, which gave mixed messages: "Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group," the suit claims the email said. "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."
Tesla has roughly 33,000 employees globally but has never publicly released its diversity statistics, Bloomberg reported. More than 10,000 people work at its sole auto-assembly plant in Fremont, California, where the United Auto Workers have launched a campaign to persuade workers to join the union. On Tesla's most recent earnings call, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk acknowledged that the company recently fired about 700 workers for low performance.
Vaughn, who worked began working Tesla in April, said he was terminated in late October for "not having a positive attitude."
Read the complaint here.