Tesla seeks reduction in $137 million awarded to contingent worker

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November 17, 2021

Tesla Inc. asked a federal court in San Francisco to reduce the $137 million in damages awarded a contingent worker in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the company or grant a new trial. The motion was filed on Tuesday.

A jury awarded plaintiff Owen Diaz $137 million in damages in October, of which $130 million was in punitive damages. Diaz worked through a staffing firm at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory as an elevator operator from mid-2015 to early 2016. Harassment included use of racial epithets and being told to “go back to Africa,” according to court records. Diaz also heard racial slurs being used toward other Black employees, and racial epithets being used in front of his son, who also worked at the factory. One employee drew racist and derogatory caricatures of African children.

“Tesla abhors and condemns the use of all racial slurs, including the N-word,” the company said in its court filing this week. “They are deeply offensive, utterly unacceptable, and have no place in Tesla’s workplaces. Tesla’s policies prohibit racial discrimination and harassment of any kind.”

The company noted it worked closely with staffing agencies and took action against workers about whom Diaz filed complaints. Testimony at trial included other claims, but Tesla argued in this week’s motion that they were uncorroborated.

Tesla’s motion this week said it was undisputed the company itself did not intentionally perpetrate racist conduct against Diaz or anyone else, though it noted the jury believed Tesla could and should have done more to root out racism at the factory.

“Nevertheless, the jury award here, a staggering $136.9 million, simply cannot stand,” according to the motion. “It is an award without precedent in US antidiscrimination law. It dwarfs awards in similar — and even in the most egregious — cases. And it bears no relationship to the actual evidence at trial.”

A motion hearing in this case is set for Jan. 19.

The case number is 3:17-cv-0674-WHO.

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