Tesla will not be able to break free from the California Department of Civil Rights lawsuit over racial prejudice and harassment.
A California judge issued a preliminary ruling on Tuesday evening rejecting Tesla’s request to dismiss the case. Tesla had argued that DCR was not following proper protocol in its investigations into the automaker’s factory in Fremont, which the agency says is a racially segregated workplace where black workers are victims of abuse, intimidation, unequal pay and generally a hostile environment. working environment.
While the court provisionally dismissed the motion, California Supreme Court Judge Evelio Grillo, who opposed staying the lawsuit in June, imposed a one-year statute of limitations on the DCR, according to a source familiar with the lawsuit. matter. The source said the preliminary ruling sets a high bar for the DCR to demonstrate that a culture of racism at Tesla’s factory is indeed systematic.
This is a preliminary ruling. That means a formal ruling will follow at Wednesday’s hearing, giving Tesla a chance to switch Grillo before going to court.
The DCR, formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, originally filed its lawsuit against Tesla in February after collecting “hundreds of employee complaints” and evidence that rampant segregation and racial harassment and discrimination exist at Tesla’s Fremont plant. . The DCR is not looking into such complaints. To initiate an investigation, individual employees would have to file complaints with the department.
“The problem that is most prevalent here is that there are repeated claims of discrimination in the same workplace,” Helen Rella, an attorney who specializes in commercial litigation and employment law, told TechCrunch. “That is problematic for Tesla and for employers in general, because repeated claims of discrimination suggest, whether true or not, that there is a culture of discriminatory behavior in the workplace. But crucial to the whole situation is that the employer takes these claims seriously, conduct a thorough investigation and immediately take corrective action where warranted based on the results of any investigation they undertake.
Tesla has not responded to TechCrunch’s requests for comment. In the past, the automaker has denied that anything was wrong or that there is a hostile work environment at the factory. In a February blog post, the automaker called the DCR’s lawsuit “misguided” and said the agency has refused to provide Tesla with specific allegations or factual basis for its lawsuit.
Tesla has repeatedly taken steps to both dismiss the DCR’s case against the company and temper the agency’s authority. In June, Tesla petitioned the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) accusing the DCR of failing to conduct proper investigations before filing a lawsuit against the automaker. The OAL denied that petition Monday, but said Tesla was free to pursue the matter with the DCR or in court.
One of Tesla’s arguments to discredit the DCR is that the agency passed “underground regulations,” failed to honestly notify Tesla of an investigation, or failed to help mediate disputes before going to court.
“It is not uncommon for these matters to be mediated and there is an agreement that the employer reaches with these governing bodies on how they are going to mediate the situation, but that generally involves an acknowledgment on the part of the employer that there was of some form of misconduct, that there was a culture of discrimination and something that would warrant taking some sort of corrective action,” Rella said.
However, if the employer takes the hard stance that he has done nothing wrong and there is no culture of discrimination, mediation becomes a bit difficult, Rella added.
“The purpose of mediation is to find a solution,” Rella said, noting that in the arena of discrimination, this usually means a monetary solution or the employer agreeing to institute some sort of relevant training for employees. “So it’s almost counterintuitive for one side to say they don’t bend at all, because then the sole purpose of the mediation would ostensibly be for one side to convince the other that the position was incorrect.”
The DCR lawsuit isn’t the first time Tesla’s Fremont facility has come under fire for its culture of racism. In 2017, former factory worker Marcus Vaughn filed a class action lawsuit against the automaker for failing to investigate complaints that he was repeatedly called the “n-word” by executives and colleagues. That case is still pending, as is the case of Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at Tesla who has sued for similar racial harassment. Diaz recently rejected a $15 million jury award, which was a huge reduction from a previous $137 million jury award.
This story is evolving. Come back for updates.