Tesla has hit back at a class-action lawsuit that alleges its Fremont, California manufacturing plant is a “hotbed for racist behavior.” Filed earlier this week by Marcus Vaughn, who worked at the plant from April to October, the suit claims that Tesla failed to investigate a human resources complaint by Vaughn after repeatedly being called the “n-word” by managers and coworkers. Instead, Vaughn says he was fired in October for “not having a positive attitude.”
In a post on Tesla’s blog titled “Hotbed of Misinformation,” the company claims that Vaughn’s lawsuit has “a number of false statements.” This is at least the third lawsuit filed against Tesla that claims it has not done enough to address racial harassment at its Fremont factory.
Tesla says it investigated “disappointing behavior” among people who worked on or near Vaughn’s team several months ago, which involved “conflicting accusations and counter-accusations between several African-American and Hispanic individuals, alleging use of racial language, including the ’n-word’ and ‘w-word,’ towards each other and a threat of violence.” Tesla then fired three people as a result of the investigation, according to the post.
“Our company has more than 33,000 employees, with over 10,000 in the Fremont factory alone, so it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct, but we will do our best to make it is as close to zero as possible,” the post states.
It goes on to challenge several other statements in Vaughn’s class-action lawsuit, including his claim that he was fired. Tesla says Vaughn was employed by a temp agency, not Tesla, and left after his six-month contract was up instead of being terminated.
Tesla also addressed an email to employees by founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk that was mentioned in Vaughn’s complaint. In it, Musk wrote “In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”
The blog post says that Musk meant people who apologize for making a hurtful statement on one occasion should have their apology accepted if it’s sincere, because “the counterpoint would be that a single careless comment should ruin a person’s life and career, even if they truly regret their action and do their best to make amends. That would be a cold world with no forgiveness and no heart.”
Both Musk’s email and Tesla’s new blog post, however, have been interpreted as minimizing the experience of racial discrimination and harassment.
I have not seen evidence suggesting that people have their lives ruined by a single offensive comment. Or many. Or sustained bigotry, bias and hate in their actions.
— Richard Lawler (@rjcc) November 15, 2017
Tesla’s blog post also does not mention that the other lawsuits that claim it has not done enough to address discrimination and harassment. Last month, three African-American workers filed a suit that says they experienced harassment, including being called the “n-word” and racist drawings, at the Fremont plant. That suit came seven months after another one filed by DeWitt Lambert in March, who said he was “subjected to racial slurs and lewd behavior” at the same facility.
The plaintiffs in all three lawsuits are represented by employment and civil rights attorney Lawrence Organ. Tesla took shots at Organ in its blog post, claiming that he “has a long track record of extorting money for meritless claims and using the threat of media attacks and expensive trial costs to get companies to settle.” (TechCrunch has contacted Organ for comment).
In addition to the three racial discrimination cases, Tesla is also facing a lawsuit brought in October by Jorge Ferro, a gay ex-worker at the Fremont factory, who alleges he was fired after complaining about anti-gay harassment and threats of violence. Ferro is being represented by attorney Chris Dolan, not Organ.