June 18, 2024

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Tesla has been ordered to pay a former black worker $3.2 million in a racial bias case in the United States

Tesla has been ordered to pay a former black worker $3.2 million in a racial bias case in the United States

(Reuters) – A San Francisco federal jury on Monday ordered Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) to pay nearly $3.2 million to a black former employee after winning a racial harassment lawsuit against the electric car maker, far less than the $15 million it rejected last year. The past in his choice of a new experience.

The ruling came a week after a retrial of the 2017 lawsuit by plaintiff Owen Diaz, who in 2021 was awarded $137 million by a different jury. One of the judges agreed with this jury that Tesla was responsible but said the verdict was excessive. A new damages trial was ordered after Diaz refused the reduced $15 million.

Diaz had accused Tesla of failing to act when he repeatedly complained to managers that employees at the Fremont, California plant frequently used racial slurs, scribbled swastikas, and racist caricatures and features on walls and work areas.

A jury on Monday awarded Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator, $175,000 in damages for mental distress and $3 million in punitive damages intended to punish and deter the illegal behavior in the future.

“The verdict would have been zero” if the judge had allowed the company to present new evidence at the retrial, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet.

Musk added, “The jury did its best with the information it was given. I respect the decision.”

The company said it does not tolerate discrimination in the workplace and takes worker complaints seriously.

Bernard Alexander, Diaz’s attorney, urged jurors during closing statements Friday to award him nearly $160 million in damages, sending a message to Tesla and other large companies that they will be held accountable for failure to address discrimination.

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“Mr. Diaz’s worldview is permanently changed,” Alexander said. “This is what happens when you take someone’s safety.”

Tesla’s attorney, Alex Spiro, responded by saying that Diaz was a confrontational factor who exaggerated his claims of emotional distress, and said his attorneys had failed to show any serious and long-term harm caused by Tesla.

“They just throw numbers at the screen like this is some kind of game show,” said Spiro.

Diaz’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

Case seen “out of sight”

Ryan Saba, a Los Angeles-based employment attorney who was not involved in the case, said the verdict was surprisingly low given the outrageous behavior Tesla was found to have.

Saba said it could be cut further because punitive damages usually do not exceed nine times the amount of damages for mental disorders and other injuries. The punitive damages awarded by the jury on Monday were about 20 times the damages for mental distress.

“I expect both sides to appeal,” Saba said. “This case is not over yet.”

Diaz testified last week, tearfully recounting various incidents during the nine months he worked at the Fremont plant. Diaz said the job made him anxious and strained his relationship with his son, who also worked at the factory.

Tesla’s attorneys highlighted what they said were inconsistencies in Diaz’s testimony and repeatedly raised the fact that he had not filed written complaints with supervisors. Diaz testified that he complained verbally to managers several times and discussed his complaints with human resources officials at Tesla.

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The electric vehicle maker faces similar allegations of tolerance of racial discrimination at its Fremont plant and other workplaces in a pending class action lawsuit by black workers, a separate case from the California Civil Rights Agency, and multiple lawsuits involving individual workers. The company denied any wrongdoing in those cases.

Diaz sued Tesla for violating a California law that prohibits employers from failing to handle hostile work environments based on race or other protected traits.

The first jury in 2021 awarded Diaz $7 million in emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages. The award was one of the largest in an employment discrimination case in US history.

US District Judge William Orek last year agreed with the jury that Tesla had broken the law, but said the award was excessive and reduced it to $15 million.

Urek said Diaz only worked at the plant for nine months and alleged no bodily injury or illness warranting a higher reward.

On Friday, Orek denied a motion by Diaz’s attorney for a mistrial. They alleged that Tesla’s legal team violated Orrick’s law on introducing new evidence at the retrial by questioning Diaz and other witnesses about incidents in which he allegedly made racist or sexist comments.

Orek said that these questions related to other incidents discussed in the first trial, and that Diaz’s attorneys did not show that cross-examination harmed the jury.

(Reporting on Daniel Wiesner in Albany, NY Editing by Alexia Garamfalfi and Matthew Lewis

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