The Los Angeles Times has a great piece that interviews three former Tesla employees about their experiences of racism, discrimination and retaliation at the company, which is well worth reading. The story serves as a way to contextualize a lawsuit the automaker is currently facing, with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing claiming the company has a “racially segregated workplace.”
While the experiences described in the lawsuit and in the Time‘ story are similar (and equally disturbing), being able to read real interviews helps connect names, faces, and individual experiences to the situation at the Tesla facility in California.
The workers have unique stories, but they share disturbingly similar through-lines. Two employees describe being blacklisted or blacklisted after reporting racist behavior to executives or HR. One describes a task usually done by two people – another recalls asking a supervisor, “‘You tell me to do a job for four people alone?'” She says the supervisor told her that she had to do it or she would be fired. They all report being constantly called the n-word – sometimes by managers, and often with the word “lazy” attached to it.
One employee says the move to HR ended the harassment from colleagues, but she didn’t get a performance appraisal, pay raise or promotion for months afterward. She was later fired for an accident in which she hit a sprinkler with a forklift. Another employee, she said, hit five sprinklers and was allowed to keep his job. “They were waiting for me to make a mistake,” she said.
The other workers echoed similar sentiments. One said Tesla “went looking for a reason to fire him” after reporting his racist treatment to HR. The other said she felt she was being forced out of the company after being “harassed by supervisors.” Here’s an example she gave:
HR emailed her that she was “under investigation for allegedly threatening someone,” she said. Stunned, she asked who had threatened her and was told it was someone from the day shift.
But she had worked night shifts.
“People on the day shift said to them, ‘We don’t know her,'” said Romby. “It was just a bunch of BS”
The company’s lawyers (it no longer has a PR department) largely denied the allegations to the Time, and stated reasons why it treated employees the way it did. But this isn’t the first time Tesla has been criticized for having a hostile workplace. Last year, a California jury ruled that the company would have to pay a former employee $137 million in damages after supervisors failed to address his reports of being harassed with racist graffiti and constant use of racist remarks.
The company also had to pay another former employee $1 million after he won an arbitration case. Other employees accuse the company of a racist culture. (Again, Tesla denied many of the allegations from these cases.)
But while reading about lawsuits can certainly be enlightening, it’s important to also look at what employees have to say about the situations they’ve been in. It provides more context, as well as insight that we might not otherwise gain into how discrimination can affect people emotionally, and their lives in the future. That’s why the Los Angeles Times piece is important and well worth reading.