Judge Reduces “Excessive” Award in Case Against Tesla

US District Judge William Orrick reduced a $137 million award to former Tesla elevator operator Owen Diaz to $15 million. Diaz alleged in his lawsuit that Tesla had ignored racial abuse and discrimination at the factory in Fremont, California.

Orrick called the $137 million award “excessive,” though he rejected Tesla’s bid to reduce the award even further to $300,000. He warned that the $137 million award could trigger a new trial through potential constitutional issues.

 Diaz described daily abuse that included racial epithets and abusive graffiti scrawled on bathroom walls. He says other workers at the Fremont factory also told him to “go back to Africa.” Diaz alleged that Tesla supervisors failed to address the issue and it caused psychological issues that led to weight loss and sleepless nights.

A member of Diaz’ legal team, Bernard Alexander, told Reuters that “the award of $15 million is substantial but does not come close to reflecting the harm caused to Mr. Diaz, or the reprehensibility of Tesla’s conduct.”

Tesla denies the allegations. It says it investigated complaints of racism and terminated at least three employees, though it didn’t say which employees were fired due to potential privacy issues. While making his ruling, Orrick called Tesla’s version of events “watered down revisionism.”

Tesla paid a $1 million ruling to another former employee, Melvin Berry, who alleged similar racial abuse from a supervisor. The company also faces a class-action lawsuit alleging racial abuse at its factories dating back to 2015.

Tesla employees in New York filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New York Division of Human Rights, alleging similar harassment of minorities. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Tesla alleging discriminatory behavior, harassment, and maintaining a racially segregated facility.

Tesla is also fighting a lawsuit alleging that it retaliated against an employee who reported theft at the battery manufacturing plant at Reno, Nevada. The employee alleges that Tesla attempted to hide theft of pallets of copper from the media and investors.

Other legal flaps involving former employees include a Tesla victory in a lawsuit in which it alleged that Martin Tripp leaked sensitive information to the press. Tripp didn’t deny that he leaked the information but said it was justified due to alleged safety issues at Tesla factories. However, a jury ruled that Tripp violated Nevada’s computer crime laws by leaking the information.

Tesla also settled a lawsuit with a former employee who allegedly handed files related to the Autopilot driver assist program over to XMotors. XMotors said it won’t use Tesla’s intellectual property.