A female Tesla engineer is suing the electric carmaker for “unwanted and pervasive harassment,” alleging that she and several other female employees were denied promotions, paid less than their male peers, and retaliated against after making their concerns known to human resources.
AJ Vandermeyden, 33, filed her lawsuit against Tesla last fall, but only spoke out publicly this week in an article published in The Guardian. Notably, she is still employed at Tesla, but told the publication she is concerned that the lawsuit will result in her eventual dismissal.
Vandermeyden’s story is coming to light at a time when Silicon Valley is reeling from the explosive allegations by an ex-Uber engineer, who claimed the ride-hailing company is a swamp of sexism and harassment. Uber launched an internal investigation into the claims, and other female employees have since corroborated her story.
Tesla’s recent problems have had more to do with allegations of unsafe work conditions and a unionization effort. That is, until Vandermeyden’s story emerged tying the electric carmaker directly to the broader problems in Silicon Valley.
According to the lawsuit, Vandermeyden was hired by Tesla in April 2013 as a product specialist in the sales division. In March 2014, she was promoted to engineering project coordinator in the paints department, and then to manufacturing engineer several months later.
The next year, she was transferred to the general assembly division, where she was under the impression that she would be in line for further promotions and salary increases. Instead she found herself the subject of “unwanted and pervasive harassment” by the mostly male staff, including “inappropriate language, whistling, and cat calls,” according to the lawsuit.
Despite performing work “equal in skill, effort, and responsibility,” Vandermeyden claims she was paid less than her male colleagues. She also claims she was paid less than the male engineer who’s job she directly took over.
Notably, Vandermeyden claims she raised concerns about “inadequacies in the quality testing of cars,” but that she was ignored by her male superiors, and her attempts to implement solutions were thwarted.
In July 2015, she alleges that she and other female engineers were passed over for promotion, while their male colleagues were moved up the ranks. She was told that in order to advance at Tesla, she would need to “increase the direct run rate at the end of the line by a rate that was unattainable and not expected of the male engineers,” the lawsuit reads.
“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” Vandermeyden told The Guardian. “I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”
In a statement to the publication, Tesla refused to address Vandermeyden’s claims directly, but nonetheless threw some shade her way. “As with any company with more than 30,000 employees, it is inevitable that there will be a small number of individuals who make claims against the company, but that does not mean those claims have merit,” a company spokesperson told The Guardian.
The Verge has reached out to both Tesla and Vandermeyden’s lawyer, and we’ll update this post when we hear back.
Update February 28th, 3:40PM ET: A Tesla spokesperson responded with a statement detailing facts of Vandermeyden’s employment history and promotions, which the company argues rebuts her own claims of sexism. Tesla also claims to have passed along Vandermeyden’s claims to “a neutral third party, Anne Hilbert of EMC2Law” to investigate.
“After an exhaustive review of the facts, the independent investigator determined that Ms. Vandermeyden’s ‘claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated,’” the spokesperson said. “Without this context, the story presented in the original article is misleading.”