VALLEJO, Calif. - A former Tesla contractor asked for $101 million in damages for racial abuse he said he endured while working for the electric car maker. Instead, a jury in San Francisco ordered Telsa to pay him $137 million.
Vallejo resident Owen Diaz said when he was hired through contractor Citistaff to work for Tesla back in 2015, he was excited.
"I really do believe in the vision that Elon Musk has, moving away from fossil fuel, but while I do believe in his vision, I don’t believe in the way he was getting to the vision," said Diaz.
Weeks into his job as an elevator operator at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Diaz said he was repeatedly harassed, called racial slurs and the "N-word" he said was pervasive.
"Call me boy, hurry up and push the batteries out of the elevator or n-word, push the button," said Diaz. "We were just being treated less than human."
Diaz said a co-worker drew an offensive racial cartoon character on a bale of cardboard.
"At the time I felt like nobody was listening," said Diaz. "When I was complaining to Tesla’s upper management and let them know what was going on, I became public enemy number one."
Diaz quit after nine months. This week, a jury in San Francisco, after deliberating for three hours ordered Tesla to pay $137 million.
"They are sending a message out to Tesla," said Diaz. "They are sending a message to Elon Musk, saying clean your factory. This is not going to be tolerated by a common worker."
This isn’t the first time Tesla has been accused of harassment.
Back in 2017, Dewitt Lambert filed a racial discrimination lawsuit documenting a racial tirade from a co-worker on his cell phone.
Larry Organ was the attorney for Lambert and Diaz.
"The jury awarded more than we asked for and I think it’s because, they were incensed Telsa could permit this kind of racist conduct," said Organ.
In a statement, Telsa Vice President Valerie Capers Workman wrote, "While we strongly believe these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect."
The statement went on to say the company has since added a team dedicated to investigating employee complaints and a diversity, equity and inclusion team.
As for Diaz, he now works as a bus driver for AC Transit, traumatized by his time at Tesla.
"It really hurts instead of this company taking responsibility for what’s going on, they just blame the victim," said Diaz.
Azenith Smith is a reporter for KTVU. Email Azenith at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AzenithKTVU or Facebook or ktvu.com