Tesla Was Sued by a Black Contractor Alleging Discrimination at California Factory


  • A former Tesla contractor is suing, alleging discrimination based on race, age, gender, and disability. 
  • At least five other Black Tesla employees and contractors from the same California factory have sued in recent years.
  • Last month, a jury decided Tesla should pay one former contractor $137 million after he alleged racist abuse.

A former Tesla contractor said in a lawsuit that she was subjected to variety of discriminatory behavior while working at the electric carmaker’s San Francisco Bay Area factory, the latest in a string of legal complaints brought by Black workers at the facility, including a recent case in which a jury awarded the plaintiff $137 million in damages.

Rebecca Spates, who worked as a contract manufacturer at Tesla’s Fremont, CA plant, alleged in a lawsuit filed last month that she was subjected to sexual harassment on the job, including a coworker touching her buttocks, and that she had complained to management in July 2020 about “Black employees being overworked.”

Spates said in her lawsuit, which has not previously been reported, that she was fired in August 2020 for attendance problems – even though she claimed that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had given her “free points” because of the impact of COVID-19 and the California wildfires.

“Additionally, I am aware that a male Caucasian coworker also had attendance issues but was not discharged and instead was given permanent employee status,” Spates said in the lawsuit, filed in California state court in Alameda County, where the factory is located.

The recent complaint marks at least the sixth lawsuit from Black workers at the company’s 10,000-person Fremont factory, and the first from a woman. 

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment. Nor did Spates, her attorney, or Balance Staffing, the contract agency through which Spates was hired to work at Tesla’s Fremont factory.

In July, tech outlet Protocol found that since 2018, over 100 people requested the right to sue Tesla in California for discriminatory reasons, and nine of the people were denied the right to sue because of lack of evidence. Of the Tesla complaints, Protocol found that more than 30% are based on allegations of racial discrimination, compared with about 10% of all cases in 2020. 

In August, a former materials handler at the Fremont plant was awarded more than a $1 million after alleging his supervisors called him racial slurs. 

And on October 4, a jury ruled Tesla must pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black contractor who said he endured racist abuse while working at the Fremont plant as an elevator operator in 2015. The award may be one of the largest verdicts in an individual race discrimination in employment case, a legal expert told Insider at the time.

In response to the October 4 verdict, Tesla’s VP of people, Valerie Capers Workman, published a blog post disputing Diaz’s account of events and saying that the company had changed a lot in the years since Diaz worked at the Fremont facility.

“The Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today,” Workman said in the blog post.

The incidents that Spates alleges in her lawsuit occurred between June 2019 and August 2020, when she was hired for manufacturing role on a contract basis through Balance Staffing. 

Spates’ complaint said that Tesla discriminated against her based on her race and gender as well as her physical and mental disability. An unspecified work injury led to acute stress, which caused sciatica pain, anxiety, and depression. She said Tesla did not accommodate her disability-induced needs.

In April, Spates filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the organization allowed her to sue Tesla. Spates’ first hearing is set for March 8.  

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