A San Francisco federal court on Oct. 4 ordered Tesla to pay a former worker, Owen Diaz, about $137 million after he endured a hostile work environment and racist abuse working there as an elevator operator. Now Diaz, who is Black, is speaking out.
The jury awarded more than attorneys had asked for their client, including $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress, CNBC reported.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Diaz said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “The jury knew that this is not just for me; this verdict is for everybody that works at Tesla. This is their way of putting Elon Musk on notice.”
Diaz was a former contract worker hired at Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company through a staffing agency in 2015. He told the court that he faced a hostile work environment where co-workers used epithets to denigrate him and other Black staffers. In one case, he was told to “go back to Africa” and found racist graffiti in the restrooms and a racist drawing in his workspace.
The case moved forward because Diaz, who joined the company as a contractor, did not sign a mandatory arbitration contract, which binds many Tesla employees. Such contracts typically prevent employees from suing over workplace grievances.
“God’s justice is that I didn’t sign the arbitration agreement,” he told The Daily Beast. “Arbitration is not good for the common worker… These companies are using arbitration to effectively turn workers into slaves.”
Diaz claimed that the electric carmaker did nothing about the harassment he reported. Even his supervisors engaged in racial discrimination, allegedly taunting him with racist imagery and using epithets against him.
“[I] had supervisors telling me, ‘Nr, hurry up and push the button’; ‘Nr, push these batteries out of the elevator.’ And they were also telling me, ‘N—–s aren’t shit,’” he said.
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Representatives for Tesla did not respond to requests for comment and an attorney for the company declined to comment about the verdict when asked by The Wall Street Journal.
According to Diaz, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and the rocket company SpaceX, has not reached out to him to apologize for the alleged mistreatment.
“Elon has not called me, sent me a letter, a text, skywriting, or sent up one of the spaceships to say I’m sorry,” Diaz said.
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