Photo: Matt Kang/Forbes
Tesla is still a young company that does not have a century of history behind it, so it is just learning to produce excellent products, while at the same time creating a friendly working environment. Tesla admits it still has work to do, in light of a recent court order to pay compensation to a former contract employee who was reportedly racially harassed.
Tesla has been ordered to pay almost $137 million in damages for failing to stop a Black former worker at its plant from being abused. In this regard, Valerie Capers Workman, VP, People at Tesla posted a blog post describing the situation, her view of the jury's verdict, and the company's commitment to creating a better working environment.
Valerie said that, in late 2015 and early 2016, Owen Diaz, who was a contract employee and actually worked for Citistaff and nextSource, worked for Tesla. Diaz claimed Black workers regularly faced racist slurs on the factory floor and racist graffiti in bathrooms at Tesla's factory in Fremont. In addition to Diaz, three other witnesses testified in court that they regularly heard racially motivated insults (including the n-word). While they all agreed that the use of the n-word was inappropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they believed the language was being used "friendly" and usually by African American colleagues. They also told the jury about the racist graffiti in the bathrooms that had been removed by the company's cleaners.
Valerie stressed that there was no witness statement or other evidence that anyone had ever heard the n-word used in relation to Diaz. Diaz filed written complaints to his non-Tesla executives, which has been documented. However, it is worth noting that he didn’t make any complaints about the n-word until after he was not hired full-time by Tesla, and after he hired an attorney.
During his tenure at Tesla, Diaz complained of the harassment three times, and the company stepped in and made sure the recruiting agencies responded in a timely manner. As a result, two contractors were fired and one was suspended from work. Diaz himself testified that he was “very satisfied” with the results of one of the investigations, and he agreed that there was a follow-up on each of his complaints. Also, at the time he was complaining about the harassment, he recommended that his two children also work for Tesla, which should have been a good example of Diaz being happy with his job at the company.
Valerie wrote that Tesla did not agree with the verdict issued by the jury in San Francisco, while was not afraid to admit that the company was not perfect in 2015 and 2016 as well as now. However, to date, the manufacturer has already come a long way in terms of improvement, and it is not at all the same as it was five years ago. "We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns. Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable," Valerie wrote.
Since 2015 Tesla has added a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion team dedicated to ensuring that employees have the equal opportunity to excel at Tesla. In addition, the company now has a comprehensive Employee Handbook (replacing the Anti-Handbook Handbook) where all of their HR policies, employee protections, and ways to report issues are published in one easy-to-find online document. Tesla acknowledges that it still has work to do so that every employee feels like they can fully devote themselves to working at Tesla, so the company continues to work on improving the workplace environment.
© 2021, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
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