A California verdict ordering Tesla to pay a Black former employee $137 million in damages for turning a blind eye to racism the man encountered at the firm’s Silicon Valley auto plant is a resounding message to corporate America in the eyes of his attorney.
“They awarded an amount that could be a wake-up call for American corporations,” civil rights attorney Larry Organ told AFP on Tuesday.
“Don’t engage in racist conduct, and don’t allow racist conduct to continue.”
Owen Diaz was hired through a staffing agency as an elevator operator at the electric vehicle manufacturer’s Fremont factory between June 2015 and July 2016, where he was subjected to racist abuse and a hostile work environment, according to the court filing.
In his lawsuit filed in 2017, Diaz said African American employees at the factory, where his son also worked, were regularly subjected to racist epithets and derogatory imagery.
Instead of a modern workplace, the plaintiffs “encountered a scene straight from the Jim Crow era,” said the suit, originally filed by Diaz, his son Demetric and a third former employee.
“Tesla’s progressive image was a facade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees,” the court filing said.
Diaz alleged that despite complaints to supervisors, Tesla took no action over the regular racist abuse.
The jury at the federal court in San Francisco on Monday awarded Diaz $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress, Organ confirmed.
“I knew all along Owen was telling the truth. I just had to prove it to eight strangers,” he said, referring to the panel of jurors.