Owen Diaz spoke out Wednesday after winning a jury verdict against his former employer, Tesla, for its racial discrimination in the workplace.
The jury in a U,S. district court in San Francisco, Calif. awarded Owen Diaz $137 million Monday, in a lawsuit that Diaz filed in October 2017.
Diaz was a contract elevator operator at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. from June 2015 to July 2016. He says that the other workers there called him the n-word, and told him to “go back to Africa. He also said he saw racist and derogatory images in the bathroom stalls of the facility.
With the trial behind him, Owen Diaz opened up about the racism he had encountered at the hands of the high-profile company in an interview Wednesday, when he spoke to Good Morning America.
Speaking Out For Others
Diaz called it “God’s justice” that he had been able to take the matter to trial and prevail there, because it “allowed me to talk for people who can’t talk for themselves,” who have to accept the racism they suffer from “billion dollar companies” because they are “living paycheck to paycheck.”
Diaz’ attorney was also on GMA. The attorney, Lawrence Organ of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said that the verdict “makes Tesla take notice of these horrid conditions, and hopefully it will make them change and make other companies change and realize, racist conduct has no place in the workplace.”
Tesla, in a blog post on its company website, offered its own take on the verdict. It posted a document that had begun life as an internal email to employees, in which Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla’s vice president of people, said: “While we strongly believe that 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. But we have come a long way from 5 years ago.”
Specifically, Workman said that Tesla had responded to Diaz’ complaints of racial harassment in a way that indicates how seriously it takes such matters. It fired two contractors and suspending a third.
Not the Only Time
This is not the first time that Tesla has had to react to such a lawsuit on racism within its workplaces.
Such lawsuits are limited on one front because Tesla payroll employees are required to agree to mandatory arbitration clauses when their employment begins. This prevents them from bringing suit. Diaz, though, worked for a contractor and so was not bound by any such clause.
But arbitration can backfire. In August, an arbitrator, Elaine Rushing, found in favor of Melvin Berry. Rushing found credible the evidence that supervisors had directed the n-word at Berry, and she wrote with regard to such evidence: “No other word in the English language so powerfully or instantly calls to mind our country’s long and brutal struggle to overcome racism and discrimination against African Americans.”
Further, Tesla is fighting a pending class-action civil rights lawsuit filed in 2017 in Alameda County [California] Superior Court.
The class in this lawsuit consists of more than 100 employees. They allege not only that the n-word is employed as a matter of routine but that Black employees regularly encounter KKK signs and swastikas.
Tesla points out that it has an anti-discrimination course that is required of every employee and that the class action lawsuit is a “hotbed of misinformation.”
These examples give some support to one of Diaz’s observations on GMA. “This is not really about me,” he said of the verdict in his favor. No, it’s not.