Cars

Tesla sued by California agency alleging racial discrimination

The state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing says the carmaker's Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace and Black workers are subjected to racial slurs.

James Martin/CNET

A California agency tasked with enforcing the state's civil rights laws has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Tesla, alleging racial discrimination and harassment occurred at the electric carmaker.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said it filed the complaint Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court.

"After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla's Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment," Kevin Kish, the agency's director, said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

Tesla didn't respond to a request for comment but criticized the agency's investigation in a blog post Wednesday.

"Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints," Tesla said in the post.

Tesla called the legal action "unfair and counterproductive" and pointed out that it's the "last remaining automobile manufacturer in California" and that the workforce at its Fremont factory is predominantly minority.

The agency's lawsuit comes a day after a Black gay woman who formerly worked at another Tesla factory in California filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it ignored the racial and homophobic slurs and physical harm she endured. Kaylen Barker, who worked at Tesla's Lathrop plant, alleged that she was struck with a grinding tool by a white co-worker who used a racial slur and other offensive language directed at her, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Alameda County.

The white employee was fired but then rehired two weeks later "without any forewarning or explanation," she said in her complaint. Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on that case either.

Founder and CEO Elon Musk announced plans in October to relocate the company's corporate headquarters from California to Texas, but also said Tesla would continue to expand in California.

That same month, Tesla was ordered to pay nearly $137 million in damages in a lawsuit that alleged a Black former employee was subjected to racist abuse, discrimination and harassment at the company's Fremont facility.

Other Silicon Valley companies have attracted DFEH's scrutiny in recent years. In a lawsuit in July, the agency accused gaming giant Activision Blizzard of discriminating against women and fomenting a toxic work culture. Microsoft, which said in January that it would purchase the game maker for nearly $69 billion in cash, has pledged to change Activision's culture.

A month earlier, game developer Riot Games agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle a 2018 gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the agency.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing didn't respond to a request for comment.