Tesla’s Fremont Factory Accused by State of Racial Discrimination

In the latest sign of bad blood between California and Tesla, the state’s civil rights regulator sued the electric-car maker late Wednesday night, alleging that “Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion.”

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said its lawsuit was sparked by hundreds of worker complaints, including one from a Black employee who heard racial slurs as often as 50 to 100 times a day and others who said workers flashed Confederate flag tattoos as a means of intimidation.

The department said other complaints alleged that “swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables and even factory machinery.”

Tesla, in a blog post published before the lawsuit was filed, said it will ask the court to pause the case. It also slammed the state for “attacking a company like Tesla that has done so much good for California,” noting that the Fremont factory “has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.”

The lawsuit marks yet another rift between California and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who early on in the pandemic defied COVID lockdown rules to keep the Fremont factory open and later moved himself and the company’s headquarters to Texas.

DFEH announced the lawsuit on Thursday, stating in the civil action in Alameda Superior Court that Tesla, Inc.,violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Equal Pay Act. The lawsuit alleges that Black workers are subjected to racial slurs by managers and supervisors, segregated to the lowest levels of the workforce, including the contracted workforce, and are severely under-represented in the ranks of executives, senior officials, and managers.

"After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “DFEH will continue to take steps to keep workplaces free of harassment and racism."

In addition to race-based segregation in the terms and conditions of employment, DFEH alleges that Tesla has turned a blind eye to years of complaints from Black workers protesting the near-constant use of racial slurs and derogatory language in the workplace, and the presence of racist writing and graffiti in common areas of the workplace, including swastikas and other hate symbols.

In the Feb.9 post on Wednesday, entitled “The DFEH’s Misguided Lawsuit,” Tesla said it “strongly opposes” all forms of discrimination and harassment. The company denounced the lawsuit, arguing that the state agency had investigated dozens of previous claims in recent years and found no misconduct.

“It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla,” the company said. “A narrative spun by the [DFEH] and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof.”

Tesla did not respond to media requests for comment.

Tesla also said the California agency had declined its requests for information on the accusations. The company plans to ask the court to “pause the case and take other steps to ensure that facts and evidence will be heard,” it added.

In October, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $137 million to a Black former Tesla employee who said he had faced racial harassment from a supervisor and other colleagues while working at the Fremont factory in 2015 and 2016. Employees had drawn swastikas and scratched a racial epithet in a bathroom stall and left drawings of derogatory caricatures of Black children around the factory, he said.

The next month, Jessica Barraza, another Tesla employee, sued the company, accusing it of allowing pervasive sexual harassment, both verbal and physical. Six more women sued the company in December, citing similar treatment.

Last month, one of Tesla’s top Black executives, Valerie Capers Workman, left the company. As head of human resources at Tesla, Ms. Workman was often the face of its response to such suits.

The New York Times and CalMatters contributed to this report.


  1. More drummed up victimhood?.. But….Elon still has the last laugh…
    CA Mandate & Lockdown Lunacy…

    Meet Karma…. or Meet Carma?

    Elon Musk avoids $2.3 – $2.5 Billion in CA state tax liability…
    after $16.4 Billion in stock sales.
    By moving to a “Free State” …

  2. is that a thing?

    just having a confederate flag tattoo is evidence of workplace discrimination

    what about other tattoos? are we going to make any tattoo someone doesn’t like grounds for firing or a lawsuit that the employer is liable for? sounds like it’s going to be hard to find and keep a job with tattoos if you are a walking financial loss…


    me thinks “the state” didn’t think this one through, as usually

  3. I hope Musk tells California to stick it and moves the whole damn thing to Texas.

    This state is run by people who haven’t a clue about business.

  4. $137M awarded because someone suffered the “harassment” of seeing derogatory slogans and pictures and hearing unpleasant epithets? Even paraplegics don’t get that kind of money! I suffered plenty of harassment for being short, and saw all kinds of lesser-qualified people advanced above me. Where do I sign up to get my massive payout? Oh, wait—I wasn’t a member of a privileged Identity Group. Never mind!

  5. It is notable that, of all of Tesla’s transgressions against its workforce, the state would focus on alleged race-based harassment. Tesla has been engaged in practices that undermine the physical and material well-being of all its assembly workers for years with the acquiescence of public officials.

    A case in point is Tesla (and Musk’s) flaunting of COVID-19 rules and regulations, with the sheepish acquiescence of both state and Alameda County officials, that resulted in the infection of hundreds of workers and probably hundreds of other family members and residents in the communities where those workers live. The number of illnesses or deaths are not known with accuracy (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/17/tesla-keeps-fremont-factory-open-amid-covid-19-shelter-in-place-orders.html; https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/29/ elon-musk-slams-coronavirus-shelter-in-place-orders-as-fascist.html; https://www.nytimes.com/ 2021/03/15/business/tesla-workers-coronavirus.html). It is noteworthy that neither Musk nor Tesla have yet been brought up on charges of endangering the health of its employees and their families.

    More to the point, Tesla management have a long history of fighting against unionizing drives by Tesla workers in New York and California, has subjected Tesla workers to at times harsh factory floor working conditions and has fought state initiatives to remedy these problems as a condition for state subsidies Tesla customers received. (https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2020/05/18/spacex-subsidies-tesla-texas.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/09/28/tesla-ceo-elon-musk-violated-federal-labor-law-judge-rules/; https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/18/tesla-workers-factory-conditions-elon-musk; https://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/tesla-fights-labor-rules-linking-car-rebates-to-labor-practices/; https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/03/26/tesla-and-ceo-elon-musk-punished-by-feds-over-illegal-anti-union-actions-at-fremont-plant/)

    We should remember that Tesla’s profit-seeking behavior has been underwritten by multiple billions in grants, tax subsidies, tax breaks and contracts from federal, state and local governments. Such subsidies have been, in the aggregate, a minimum $5 billion. In exchange, Musk has derided the role of government in the economy, criticized government safety net programs and repeatedly “blackmailed” the state of California with threats of moving his production facilities–and himself–out of state. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2020/07/28/elon-musk-is-government-subsidy-critic-but-teslas-q2-results-were-helped-by-covid-19-aid/#5227a3e64543; https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hy-musk-subsidies-20150531-story.html; https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/economy-budget/345338-can-we-wean-elon-musk-off-government-support-already; https://www.npr.org/ sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/09/853313775/elon-musk-says-tesla-suing-california-county-moving-headquarters-out-of-state; https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/tesla-spacex-elon-musk-discusses-regulations-leadership-candy-ai-memes-2020-12-1029880824; https://spacenews.com/spacex-revives-plans-for-launch-vehicle-construction-in-los-angeles/)

  6. Tech pest Musk can take his lousy thirty thousand jobs and leave CA, were tired of your taking subsidies and your toxic snake pit factories..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *