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Ex-Tesla factory worker loses bid for new trial in race bias case

by Mark Mendoza

A former Black factory worker for Tesla has lost his bid for a third trial in his race discrimination lawsuit against the electric carmaker. Owen Diaz, the plaintiff in the case, had claimed that he was subjected to daily racist slurs and graffiti, and that Tesla had ignored his complaints. A jury awarded Diaz $3.2 million in damages in April, a verdict that was upheld by U.S. District Judge William Orrick. The judge rejected Diaz’s claims that Tesla’s lawyers had engaged in misconduct and tainted his trial.

This case is just one of several that have alleged racial harassment at Tesla’s flagship assembly plant in Fremont, California. Diaz’s lawyers argued that Tesla’s legal team asked improper questions, baselessly accused a witness of lying, and made misleading statements to the jury during the trial. However, Judge Orrick determined that any misconduct by the company’s lawyers did not significantly influence the jury.

Diaz had previously been awarded $137 million by a different jury in 2021, but Judge Orrick ruled that the verdict was excessive. The judge then ordered a second trial to determine damages after Diaz rejected a lower payout of $15 million. Despite losing his bid for a new trial, Diaz’s lawyer, Lawrence Organ, said that the $3.2 million award was significant for a race discrimination case and demonstrated the severity of the harassment alleged by Diaz.

Tesla has denied any wrongdoing in this case and in several other lawsuits claiming racial or sexual harassment at its factories and service centers. The company has emphasized that it does not tolerate discrimination and takes complaints from workers seriously. Last week, Tesla was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which claims that Black factory workers have routinely been subjected to racist slurs and graffiti since 2015. The EEOC lawsuit is filed under federal law, which caps damages at $300,000 per worker. In addition to the EEOC lawsuit, there is also a proposed class-action lawsuit by Black workers and a lawsuit by a California state agency alleging widespread race discrimination at the Fremont plant.

While Tesla has not yet commented on this specific case, it is likely that both parties will file appeals seeking adjustments to the damages awarded. Regardless of the outcome of these appeals, this case has drawn renewed attention to the allegations of racial harassment at Tesla’s Fremont plant and highlights the ongoing challenges companies face in addressing workplace discrimination.

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