A former Black contractor, Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, has been awarded $137 million by a federal jury in San Francisco over claims that he was subjected to racial harassment and discrimination at work.
Owen Diaz filed a lawsuit claiming that he and others were called the N-word by Tesla employees, that he was told to “go back to Africa,” and that employees drew racist and derogatory pictures that were left around the factory.
Diaz complained about the discriminatory treatment to Tesla and contracted companies Citistaff and nextSource, but nothing was ever done to stop it.
The jury award included $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million in emotional damages, according to the verdict, which is believed to be the largest award in a racial harassment case involving a single plaintiff in U.S. history.
Diaz’s attorney, Larry Organ, hopes this verdict sends a message to corporate America to look at their workplace and take proactive measures to protect employees against racist conduct.
Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, stated that Tesla followed up on Diaz’s complaints and that the staffing agencies fired two contractors and suspended another. Workman acknowledged that in 2015 and 2016, Tesla was not perfect, but the company has come a long way from five years ago.
Original reporting by Joe Hernandez at NPR.