Tesla fired the female engineer who earlier this year publicly made claims about “unwanted and pervasive harassment” at the electric carmaker, according to The Guardian. Tesla says it was justified in firing the engineer, AJ Vandermeyden, because her accusations were false, but Vandermeyden’s lawyers allege that it amounts to retaliation.
Vandermeyden, who was hired by Tesla in April 2013, said 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. Vandermeyden alleges 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.
Vandermeyden filed her lawsuit against Tesla last fall, but only spoke out publicly last February in an article published in The Guardian. At the time, she said she was concerned that the lawsuit would result in her eventual dismissal.
Tesla confirmed Vandermeyden’s firing in a statement to The Verge, saying it had conducted an independent, third-party review of her claims and determined that they were false. “Despite repeatedly receiving special treatment at the expense of others, Ms. Vandermeyden nonetheless chose to pursue a miscarriage of justice by suing Tesla and falsely attacking our company in the press,” a spokesperson said. “After we carefully considered the facts on multiple occasions and were absolutely convinced that Ms. Vandermeyden's claims were illegitimate, we had no choice but to end her employment at Tesla.”
But the story is unlikely to end there for Tesla. Vandermeyden’s lawyer told The Guardian that the automaker’s decision to fire her client “proves our case. It’s clear retaliation.” She added: “Somebody is trying to instill in employees that when they speak out about matters they are legally allowed to speak out about, they too will be fired.”
Gabrielle Toledano, Tesla’s new global head of HR, informed Vandermeyden of her termination personally. Vandermeyden was fired because she was “behaving in what the evidence indicates is a fundamentally false and misleading manner, not as a result of retaliation for the lawsuit,” the spokesperson said. “It is impossible to trust anyone after they have behaved in such a manner and therefore continued employment is also impossible.”
Vandermeyden’s story came to light at a time when Silicon Valley was reeling from numerous allegations of sexual discrimination and gender inequality. An ex-Uber engineer’s claims of sexism and harassment went viral in February, prompting Uber to launch an internal investigation. And in a separate lawsuit, the Department of Labor accused Google of systemic underpaying of its female employees.