Owen Diaz: Ex-worker at Elon Musk's Tesla gets $137M settlement for workplace racism
A jury in California has ordered Tesla to pay $137 million in damages to Owen Diaz, a Black former elevator operator, after he faced discrimination and racial harassment at his workplace. Diaz, who worked at the plant between June 2015 and May 2016, claimed that he was faced with “daily racist epithets” in the plant, including the N-word, and that he often found racist graffiti and cartoons in his workplace and the toilets. He also accused colleagues of asking him to “go back to Africa”. As supervisors failed to take appropriate actions, Diaz claimed that he lost weight and had “sleepless nights". “Some days I would just sit on my stairs and cry," he said.
“I believe that’s the largest verdict in an individual race discrimination in employment case,” Bloomberg quoted David Oppenheimer, a clinical professor of law at Berkeley Law, as saying. “Class actions are of course in a different category.” The company subsequently published a blog post on its website titled “Regarding Today’s Jury Verdict.” Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, wrote that she was “at the defense table for Tesla every day during the trial because I wanted to hear firsthand what Mr. Diaz said happened to him.” The post also said that “the Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today.”
Owen Diaz speaks
In an interview with Daily Beast, Owen Diaz said, "It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. 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.” "[I] had supervisors telling me, ‘N-word', hurry up and push the button’; ‘N-word, push these batteries out of the elevator.’ And they were also telling me, ‘N-words aren’t sh**,’” he added.
A 2018 exposé in The New York Times has previously highlighted Diaz's case, and documented how there is an alleged pattern of discrimination and harassment at Tesla. Denying any wrongdoing, the company said it strives “to provide a respectful work environment for all employees and do our best to prevent bad conduct.” Diaz is now considering using a part of his payout to start a business where he plans to hire former prisoners and people experiencing homelessness. “They don’t have a support system,” he said. “They feel they’re trapped in the system.”