Former Tesla Employee Awarded $1 Million In Suit Against Company for Allegedly Turning Blind Eye to Racist Work Environment

Tesla has been ordered to pay approx. $1 million to a former employee who filed a lawsuit alleging he was called the N-word while working in the automaker’s factory in California.

Melvin Berry got the job at Tesla as a materials handler in 2015, however, quit only 17 months later after being harassed on the job, according to court documents. Earlier in 2021, Berry hired employment lawyer Jeannette Vaccaro to represent him in a private arbitration hearing with Tesla. Vaccaro argued that Tesla supervisors didn’t pay attention to Berry’s complaints when he told them about being called the N-word by co-workers.

Arbitrator Elaine Rushing stated in her ruling that there was evidence that two Tesla supervisors used racial slurs against Berry and this caused him emotional and psychological harm. Rushing said that “case law is clear that one instance of a supervisor directing the N-word at a subordinate is sufficient to constitute severe harassment.”

“No other word in the English language so powerfully or instantly calls to mind our country’s long and brutal struggle to overcome racism and discrimination against African Americans,” she wrote.

In 2017 Berry filed two complaints against his supervisors at Tesla with California’s fair employment office, according to court documents. In his lawsuit, Berry says that after he confronted them at the Fremont, California, factory for calling him the racial slur, he was forced to work longer hours and push a heavier cart of materials.

Berry was technically awarded $1 million, and more than $755,000 will go toward attorney and legal fees. He will receive approx. $266,000 in damages, according to court documents.

“We hope that this award of over $1 million will inspire change at Tesla and send a message to all employers that harassment and discrimination have no place at work,” Vaccaro said in a statement. 

In a class-action lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 employees, former Tesla employee Marcus Vaughn alleges that White co-workers engaged in racist behavior, including using racial slurs against Black employees. Vaughn and others at the Fremont factory were regularly called the N-word by supervisors at the Fremont factory, according to the complaint. Another Black employee said in court documents that he had been called the N-word about 100 times and saw KKK signs and swastikas spray-painted on bathroom stalls.

Tesla hasn’t responded publicly to the Berry case but the company has denied the allegations made by him and others. In 2017 blog post published on the company’s website titled”Hotbed of Misinformation,” Tesla stated it “is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment or unfair treatment of any kind.”

“Everyone at Tesla, without exception, is required to go through an anti-discrimination course,” the company said in the post  adding “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 as close to zero as possible.”

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