BY ETHAN BARON
A new lawsuit alleges that Tesla’s factory floor is a “hotbed for racist behavior.”
In the lawsuit, former assembly worker Marcus Vaughn, who said he was fired from the electric-car maker for “not having a positive attitude,” claims that supervisors and co-workers called him the n-word, but his written complaint to human resources about it was not investigated.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 13 in state court.
Vaughn’s lawsuit seeks certification as a class action, to bring in current and former African-American Tesla factory workers.
“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 lawsuit alleges. “Race harassment has continued at the Tesla factory, and became more widespread, because despite their knowledge of the harassment, defendants have done nothing that could be reasonably expected to stop it.”
Vaughn’s legal action is the third lawsuit filed this year by black workers alleging racial slurs were used against them and that the company ignored their complaints. It is the first such suit to seek class-action status.
Vaughn claimed in the suit that shortly after he started working at Tesla in April, supervisors and co-workers began targeting him for harassment on the basis of his race. The n-word was used against him “on a regular basis,” and he witnessed the use of the slur toward other black employees, he claimed. He said he was fired in October.
His legal complaint included a memo it said was from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to employees. In the reported May 31 memo, Musk appeared to push back against minority workers’ grievances.
“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 emailed memo, according to the lawsuit. “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.”
Vaughn’s lawsuit took issue with the purported response from the Tesla chief to problems in the workplace.
“In light of CEO Musk’s message to employees that racist epithets can be directed ‘unintentionally’ and that it is ‘important to be thick-skinned,’ it is not surprising that the Tesla factory has become a hotbed for racist behavior,” the suit said.
Vaughn is seeking unspecified general and punitive damages under California anti-discrimination law.