A former Tesla employee has filed a suit against the electric car manufacturer, alleging ongoing racial discrimination and harassment at the company's Fremont, California, plant.
The lawsuit is accompanied by a profane video that the employee, DeWitt Lambert, says was shot on his phone by one of the coworkers who harassed him.
The suit goes on to detail other forms of harassment, from the juvenile — "filling Mr. Lambert's back pockets with gold nuts and screw" and "hiding Mr. Lambert's tools" — to the disturbing, including prodding him with power tools and making repeated sexual, violent, and racist statements.
In a press release, Lambert is quoted as saying that since starting at Tesla in 2015, "I’ve experienced discrimination worse than anything I experienced growing up in Alabama and I’m scared for my safety every evening when I leave the plant."
Lambert also alleges that Tesla didn't do enough to protect him from abuse at the hands of his colleagues.
In a lengthy statement, Tesla acknowledged that Lambert made the company aware of the above video in summer 2016, but says the HR team lost track of the complaint due to a personnel change. Tesla says it previously investigated complaints of harassment from Lambert in 2015, following an altercation he had with colleagues. That investigation proved inconclusive and the case was closed; Lambert was transferred to another team.
The men who Lambert accused of harassing him told Tesla they were friends outside of work, and later, after Tesla says Lambert threatened to sue, the men produced a screenshot of a Facebook message Lambert had sent as proof that he himself used the same racially charged language.
Tesla, which says some individuals in the matter have been fired while DeWitt is suspended with pay, is investigating the matter, and says its initial investigation "should have continued uninterrupted until all the facts were known."
"We will continue to take action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work," the company said in an email statement.
Prior to this incident, Tesla says Lambert had been given a "final written warning" regarding his habit of posting photos of the Tesla facility to social media.
Earlier this year, a worker at the same facility, Jose Moran, wrote a post on Medium detailing his own set of issues with working conditions at Tesla, from long hours to injuries. Moran's allegations, which Tesla CEO Elon Musk has disputed, were accompanied by a call for Tesla employees to join a union. Lambert’s lawsuit similarly alleges that working 12-hour days doing repetitive movements on the factory line without breaks resulted in a back injury; when he complained to Tesla, Lambert’s suit says he was “refused alternative work.”
In February, Musk wrote a letter to employees arguing against unionization, and offering to install free frozen yogurt machines in the factory, where production of the Model 3 will begin later this year.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O’Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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