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Tesla To Pay Former Employee $137 Million Over Racial Abuse Lawsuit

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Harry Wilmerding Contributor
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A San Francisco federal court ruled that Tesla must pay $137 million to a black former employee after alleged racial abuse he underwent while working for the company, multiple sources reported.

Owen Diaz, who was first hired by Tesla as a contract worker in 2015, accused the company of ignoring racial abuse he reported while working there, according to Bloomberg.

The jury awarded Diaz $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress, his lawyers told CNBC. Diaz told the court that colleagues directed racial slurs toward himself and other black workers in addition to telling him to “go back to Africa” and leaving racist graffiti in restrooms and on his desk, according to CNBC.

Diaz said he felt relieved by the jury’s decision, according to The New York Times. “It took four long years to get to this point,” Diaz said Monday evening, according to the Times. “It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders.”

“It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people,” Diaz’s lawyer, Lawrence Organ, said, according to the Times.

Organ and J. Bernard Alexander, Diaz’s other lawyer, said the case could proceed only because Diaz did not sign a Tesla mandatory arbitration agreement, according to CNBC. Tesla, like many employers, uses these agreements to require employees to settle disputes in private rather than in a public trial. (RELATED: Elon Musk Unveils Plan To ‘Build A Robot In Human Form,’ Promises It Will Be ‘Friendly’)

Diaz claimed that after several complaints, the company refused to respond to the alleged racial abuse, according to the Times. “It’s not like they were removing the offensive behavior, they would just let people keep adding and adding,” he said.

Diaz’s son, Demetric, held a job at Tesla and allegedly experienced similar racist abuse, according to the Times.

Valerie Capers Workman, a human rights resource executive at Tesla, downplayed the allegations, according to emails obtained by Organ, the Times reported.

“In addition to Mr. Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the N-word) on the Fremont factory floor,” Workman wrote.

“While they all agreed that they use of the N-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues,” Workman added.

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