A San Francisco jury on Monday handed down a massive verdict of $ 136.9 million to a former Tesla employee for claiming he had been subjected to racist treatment by his supervisors. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” plaintiff Owen Diaz said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday night. “The jury knew it wasn’t just for me; this verdict is for everyone who works at Tesla. It’s their way of warning Elon Musk. “
Diaz, who is black, claimed the electric car maker turned a blind eye to the harassment. His supervisors allegedly taunted him with racist images and used epithets against him.
“[I] supervisors told me, “N— hurry up and press the button”; n-, push those batteries out of the elevator. ‘ And they would also tell me, ‘ns are not shit,’ ”he said.
The verdict included $ 6.9 million in compensatory damages and $ 130 million in punitive damages, according to to the legal publication Law360. It was not immediately clear what percentage of those funds would go to Diaz’s attorneys, or whether Tesla would be able to reduce the payment on appeal.
Tesla representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment; a company lawyer declined to comment on the verdict when demand through The Wall Street Journal.
Many Tesla employees are bound by binding arbitration contracts, which typically prevent them from pursuing workplace grievances and are much less likely to generate huge verdicts. Diaz, on the other hand, was apparently eligible to sue, since he joined the company as an entrepreneur. He spent less than a year with Tesla before leaving in the spring of 2016.
“God’s justice is that I did not sign the arbitration agreement,” he said. “Arbitration is not good for the simple worker … These companies use arbitration to effectively turn workers into slaves.”
Diaz expressed frustration that Musk, who is CEO of Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, failed to contact him to apologize for the alleged mistreatment. “Elon didn’t call me, send me a letter, text, handwriting from the sky, or send any of these spaceships to say I’m sorry,” he said. .
The case of Diaz has already been pointed out in a 2018 presentation in The New York Times, who documented a pattern of alleged harassment and discrimination at Tesla. The company denied the wrongdoing, saying it strives “to provide a respectful work environment for all employees and to do its best to prevent misconduct.”
Monday’s verdict follows a separate ruling against Tesla over racial misconduct. In August the company was would have forced to pay around $ 1 million to an employee who said his supervisors called him the n word.
Other similar lawsuits have been filed in recent years; Tesla has always denied wrongdoing.
Diaz said he plans to use part of his payment to start a business, with plans to hire former prisoners and homeless people. “They don’t have a support system,” he said. “They feel like they’re trapped in the system.
First, however, he headed for the house to sleep. On Tuesday, he was planning to go fishing or tending his garden. Squash and zucchini, he said, felt neglected.