Tesla is back in court, facing a retrial to determine the amount of compensation it must pay to a former elevator operator, Owen Diaz, who says he was subjected to racial harassment while working at the Fremont factory. Diaz was originally awarded a record $137 million in damages in 2021, but that amount was later reduced to $15 million, an amount which Diaz and his lawyers rejected, leading to the retrial.
The trial, which began on 28 March, will run for five days. Diaz had sued the company under a California law that prohibits employers from failing to prevent hostile work environments based on race and other protected traits. Diaz’s lawyer, Bernard Alexander, stated that the racist slurs, graffiti, and threats his client faced were part of a “plantation mentality” at the factory, where Black workers were treated as second-class citizens, Reuters reports.
During the opening statements, a lawyer for Diaz, Bernard Alexander, told the jury that Tesla’s conduct is “a conscious decision not to protect African American employees inside their workplace.” Diaz and several employees and managers at the Fremont plant are expected to testify in the trial.
However, Tesla’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, told the jury that any racist conduct at the plant was indefensible. Spiro suggested that Diaz was exaggerating his claims and could not prove that he suffered psychological damage warranting financial damages. He said, “There is almost no evidence of anything you just heard other than a lawyer saying it happened eight years later.”
Tesla faces claims of tolerating widespread race bias at the Fremont plant in a class action in California state court and a separate lawsuit by the state’s civil rights watchdog, making similar allegations.
The outcome of Diaz’s trial will not directly impact those lawsuits or other court cases, but it could encourage more workers to file lawsuits against the company.