What You Can Learn From Tesla’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Famous electric car manufacturer Tesla has been hit with not one but two major racial discrimination lawsuits in the past year. Both lawsuits center around the treatment Black workers face at the company’s flagship manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA.  

The first lawsuit was filed by an individual worker, who alleged he suffered significant racial discrimination at the plant. According to case documents, the plaintiff suffered harassment and abuse, including repeatedly being called racial slurs, throughout his time employed at the plant. His complaints were largely ignored when he attempted to speak to management about his treatment. A federal jury initially awarded him a $137 million settlement after his trial, which was cut down to the state limit of $15 million after Tesla challenged the verdict.

The second lawsuit was filed after the resounding success of the first. 15 plant workers banded together with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) to sue Tesla and the Fremont plant for failing to address the significant racial discrimination within the plant. This lawsuit is still ongoing, though Tesla has countersued the CRD. 

Tesla paints itself as a progressive company, but these lawsuits tell another story. They demonstrate that, unfortunately, racial discrimination is alive and well throughout California, and Black workers and other people of color (POC) suffer for it. 

Of course, not all forms of discrimination are as blatant as Fremont Tesla workers’ alleged suffering. Here’s how you can identify subtler forms of racist discrimination in the workplace and fight back against it.

Identifying Racial Bias in the Workplace

Racial bias harms people even when it doesn’t involve slurs or harassment. Common examples of subtler racial biases include:

  • Unbalanced representation between lower and higher positions in the company. At the Fremont plant, Black workers are significantly underrepresented in management and executive-level positions. This unbalanced representation may indicate that the company is biased against hiring or promoting POC into these roles.
  • Differences in pay, bonuses, or work opportunities. Similarly, unbalanced pay or opportunities may demonstrate that a company doesn’t treat people of all races fairly. If your employer has a pattern of paying POC less or providing them with fewer opportunities for advancement, you are likely suffering because of implicit racial bias.
  • Unfair “hygiene” or “grooming” policies. Some forms of bias are even less obvious. Some businesses implement policies regarding workers’ hair and dress that appear fair but actually harm POC. For instance, if a “grooming” policy bans Black workers from wearing their natural hair, it requires them to do extra unpaid work that is not required of workers of other races. It also implies that natural Black hair is “unclean” or “unprofessional.” This kind of policy can be just as harmful as stereotyping or making racially charged jokes in the workplace. 

Fight Back Against Racial Discrimination in Your Workplace

If you believe you’re being discriminated against in the workplace because of your race, you deserve help. At Alexander, Morrison + Fehr, LLP, we have years of experience fighting on behalf of clients like you who have suffered from racist harassment and discrimination. Discover how we can help you pursue justice for your treatment by scheduling your consultation today.