The dense carpet that for years has covered abuses against its technology employees, that supposed area of progress and freedom, is beginning to rise. The Californian justice has contributed to the cleanup by hitting Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, which will have to pay 137 million dollars (about 120 million euros) in damages to a former employee for the racism suffered in the Fremont (California) plant. The judge considers it proven that Tesla turned a blind eye to the systematic repetition of insults and hostile acts against the black worker during the year he worked at the factory.
Owen Díaz worked as a forklift operator between June 2015 and July 2016. During the trial, he said that African-American employees at the plant, where his son also worked, were constantly vilified and received racist nicknames – in addition to seeing insulting graffiti. in the bathrooms – and that, despite complaints to the management, the company did not intervene to stop these excesses. “The progressive image of Tesla was a cover to hide the degrading treatment of its African American employees,” the lawsuit claimed.
Tesla appears to have half-taken note of the corrective, judging by Vice President of Human Resources Valerie Capers’ comments on the ruling. While admitting that the work environment at Fremont was “not perfect,” Capers noted that the other employees who reported hearing “racist slurs on a regular basis,” “most of the time thought that language was used in a friendly and customary way by African American coworkers, “said the executive, quoted by the agency France Presse. The company stressed in a statement that the facts, which it assumes, do not justify the burdensome verdict.
Tesla also tried during the process to revoke a member of the jury, alleging an alleged race bias, “deliberately discriminatory” against his interests, Reuters reports. In a blog post, the firm notes that since the Owen Díaz case, it has made changes and created teams dedicated to investigating employee complaints and ensuring equal opportunities. In its first diversity report, released last year, Elon Musk’s company said it had just 4% black executives and 10% of its overall US workforce.
Although the case may set a precedent, especially for the amount of compensation, Owen Díaz’s is not the first complaint received by the electric automotive giant. In 2017, at least four workers at the same plant, which employs about 10,000 people, denounced the company for “toxic culture.” Three of them did so because of the manifest hostility to black workers, which seemed “straight out of the Jim Crow era”, in reference to the laws that advocated racial segregation and that made racism official in the country. An engineer went to court for being fired after denouncing discrimination based on gender and pay gap.
Toxic culture, complaints about the wage gap, excessive hours and inability to disconnect even on holidays are some of the most common complaints from employees and former employees of the Big Five. But also a culture of omertà or corporate silence – especially between managers and employees of White neck, liberal professionals – that rulings like that of the federal court in San Francisco are beginning to fail. In fact, Tesla is not the only one to be seen in the eye of the hurricane for ex-worker complaints. The most extreme case was that of the Uber platform, when several complaints of sexual harassment forced the resignation of its CEO in 2017. In parallel to the action of justice and some administrations for alleged monopolistic practices, the taboo of inviolability that Until now, the Big Five armor appears to be cracking.