Tesla’s black workers faced widespread racism, US agency alleges

Lawsuit says employees at Fremont assembly plant endured ‘severe or pervasive’ harassment since 2015

Elon Musk’s electric-car maker Tesla on Thursday was sued by a US civil rights agency, which accused the company of tolerating “open hostility and racism” directed at black employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal employment discrimination law, filed a complaint in a California federal court alleging black employees at Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant have since 2015 been subjected to “severe or pervasive racial harassment” in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit from the EEOC is the latest in a series of legal actions over accusations of anti-black racism at the company. A federal jury awarded Owen Diaz, who is black, nearly $3.2 million (€3 million) in damages in April in a lawsuit over the racial abuse he said he experienced while working as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory in 2015.

In February 2022, California civil rights regulators sued Tesla over similar allegations of “rampant racism” against black factory workers in the state.


The EEOC’s lawsuit said the racism at the company was “frequent, ongoing, inappropriate, unwelcome and occurred across all shifts, departments, and positions”.

The agency said black Tesla employees faced “racial abuse, pervasive stereotyping, and hostility”, and were called “variations of the N-word, ‘monkey’, ‘boy’, and ‘black bitch’”.

The complaint also alleges the company had “actual or constructive knowledge” of the racial harassment but “failed and refused to take steps to address the behaviour”.

The EEOC’s investigation found black employees who reported the harassment faced retaliation, including being fired or reassigned to other work, the government said.

Musk and Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In response to a separate lawsuit last year, the company said it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated employee relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints”.

In a statement, Roberta Steele, regional attorney at the EEOC’s San Francisco district office, called the allegations “disturbing”.

Tesla said it had been investigated by the EEOC in a financial filing last year, but was working towards a settlement through the agency’s mandatory conciliation process. The EEOC said in a statement that those negotiations failed.

The agency’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages, back pay for the affected black employees, and for a court order to force Tesla to change it practices to prevent further racism, the statement said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023