Tesla ordered to pay $130m to African American ex-staff Owen Diaz

Owen Diaz

Owen Diaz

A federal jury in San Francisco, California has ordered Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc to pay more than $130 million in damages to Owen Diaz, an African American former worker.

The jury found that Diaz was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and that Tesla failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the racial harassment.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Diaz was a contract worker who was employed as an elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont factory in 2015 and 2016.

In a message to employees that Tesla posted on its website, the automaker noted the trial concerned racial slurs heard on the factory floor and racist graffiti in the bathrooms.

It also said the three times that Diaz complained about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure action was taken by staffing agencies.

The jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages, according to the newspaper.

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“While we strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognise that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect,” Tesla said.

Before the trial began, presiding judge William Orrick rejected efforts by Tesla to exclude one juror from the jury, saying he believed the attempt was based on race and “purposefully discriminatory.”

Tesla said in its blog post that since Diaz worked at the Fremont factory it had made changes including the establishment of teams dedicated to investigating employee complaints and to ensuring employees had equal opportunities at the company.

Last year, the electric carmaker disclosed in its first U.S. diversity report that Black employees make up just 4% of Tesla’s American leadership roles and 10% of its total workforce in the country.

It was not clear if Tesla would be appealing the verdict.