Early this week, Owen Diaz, a Black former elevator operator at Tesla’s facility in Fremont, California was awarded $137 million in damages by an eight-person federal court jury. The jury agreed with the plaintiff that Tesla had created a hostile work environment by failing to properly address the racism Diaz experienced at the automaker’s plant.
In their reporting of the story, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times neglected to include information that would give readers a more accurate portrayal of the litigation.
Two of the four newspapers declined to state that Diaz was not a Tesla employee—he was a contract worker employed by the staffing agency, CitiStaff. No bonafide Tesla employees were indicted in the suit’s case details.
Diaz worked at Tesla from 2015 to 2016. He claimed that during that time, he was routinely called racial slurs at work by a supervisor who used the n-word more than 60 times and told Diaz to “go back to Africa.” Three other contract employees testified that they commonly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) from persons working in the factory and that “most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues.”
Only two of the newspapers revealed that some of the n-word usages came from other Black employees.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Tesla “turned a blind eye to racial taunts and offensive graffiti” yet according to the Tesla company blog, during his tenure at the Tesla factory, Mr. Diaz complained about racial harassment three times and Tesla took action by firing two contract employees and suspending another.
Valarie Capers Workman ( VP) blogged, “Mr. Diaz himself testified that he was ‘very satisfied’ with the results of one of the investigations, and he agreed that there was follow-up on each of his complaints.”
Here is the full response (VP) Workman sent out to Tesla employees following the verdict:
- Mr. Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff.
- Mr. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016.
- In addition to Mr. Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor. While they all agreed that the use of the n-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a “friendly” manner and usually by African-American colleagues. They also told the jury about racist graffiti in the bathrooms, which was removed by our janitorial staff;
- There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used toward Mr. Diaz.
- Mr. Diaz made written complaints to his non-Tesla supervisors. Those were well-documented in the nine months he worked at our factory. But he didn’t make any complaints about the n-word until after he was not hired full-time by Tesla – and after he hired an attorney.
- The three times that Mr. Diaz did complain about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure responsive and timely action was taken by the staffing agencies: two contractors were fired and one was suspended (who had drawn a racially offensive cartoon). Mr. Diaz himself testified that he was “very satisfied” with the results of one of the investigations, and he agreed that there was follow-up on each of his complaints.
- Even though Mr. Diaz now complains about racial harassment at Fremont, at the time he said he was being harassed, he recommended to his son and daughter – while they were all living together in the same home – that they work at Tesla with him.
None of the four newspapers reported that the legal document states that Diaz was known for being “very abrasive” toward coworkers, or his involvement in verbal disputes with at least three fellow employees at Tesla during the first five months of his employment at the Tesla Factory.
The newspapers portrayed Diaz as an overlooked victim of an insensitive company. Yes, he was mistreated by coworkers, likely those to whom he was abrasive and with whom he had verbal disputes as documented. Nevertheless, reporting on the case should present proper context and a review of all known facts.
Tesla should not be held responsible for the treatment the plaintiff alleged.
Image at top By Steve Jurvetson – Flickr: Tesla Autobots, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24819239