A federal judge said on Wednesday, local time, Tesla was liable to a Black elevator operator who said the electric car company ignored racial abuse at the factory where he worked.
After jurors determined last October that Tesla exposed Owen Diaz to a hostile environment at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory by tolerating and failing to halt the bigotry he experienced, US District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco declared.
Diaz, who worked at the facility for nine months in 2015 and 2016, said that other employees called him racial slurs and wrote swastikas and obscenities, including the ‘N-word,’ on the restroom walls.
He further said that one of his coworkers drew a racist caricature near his desk.
After a jury decided in October that Owen Diaz had been exposed to racist insults and discrimination while working as an elevator operator at the electric vehicle company’s Northern California facility between June 2015 and May 2016, US District Court Judge William Orrick announced his verdict. Diaz was granted $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million in emotional pain by the jury.
While “the weight of the evidence amply supports the jury’s liability findings” Orrick stated in his 43-page opinion (see below), he also determined that the jury’s $130 million in punitive damages was “unconstitutionally large” and should be lowered to $13.5 million. He also thought the jury’s $6.9 million in compensatory damages was “excessive” and that it should be lowered to $1.5 million, far more than the $300,000 that Tesla had advocated for.
Diaz’s lawyer in the lawsuit said they were looking at their options, and he didn’t blame the court for lowering the damages amount.
“It’s not the judge’s fault — it’s the way the legal system has evolved,” said Larry Organ of the California Civil Rights Law Group, who was “heartened by the judge’s factual findings and his clear disdain for Tesla’s denials.”
In his 2017 complaint, Diaz said that while working at Tesla’s Fremont, California, facility, he was exposed to racist insults and urged to “go back to Africa.” According to Diaz’s lawsuit, Tesla employees drew swastikas, left racist graffiti, and carved insulting pictures of Black children around the factory. He contended that supervisors failed to stop the abuse.