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Tesla reportedly paid $1 million to former employee who said supervisors called him a racist slur

Melvin Berry said the company failed to act when supervisors called him the N-word

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A former Tesla employee won a $1 million award from the automaker after an arbitrator found the company failed to prevent his supervisors from calling him a racial slur, Bloomberg Law reported. Melvin Berry, who is Black, was hired at Tesla’s plant in Alameda, California in 2015. He said a supervisor called him the N-word, then retaliated by forcing him to work longer hours and do more physically demanding work when Berry confronted him. Tesla has denied the allegations.

Arbitrator Elaine Rushing said in a May 12th ruling that Tesla was liable for the harassment Berry described, according to Bloomberg. “Case law is clear that one instance of a supervisor directing the N-word at a subordinate is sufficient to constitute severe harassment,” Rushing wrote. And, she wrote, a supervisor who wrote Berry a warning letter lacked credibility.

Tesla argued that there was no written evidence that Berry had complained about supervisors calling him the N-word, noting that he left the company voluntarily, the arbitrator’s ruling shows.

Arbitration proceedings between employers and employees are usually kept confidential, but Bloomberg reported that Berry’s attorney filed a standard petition in court to enforce the arbitrator’s order, which revealed the decision. Attorney Lawrence Organ told Bloomberg that Berry would not be pursuing further legal action since Tesla has paid the award.

Berry is not the first worker to allege racism at Tesla’s Fremont plant. In 2017, former assembly worker Marcus Vaughn sued Tesla saying the company had not investigated his written complaint that co-workers and supervisors had called him the N-word. Vaughn called the Fremont plant a “hotbed for racist behavior.” Tesla said in a statement at the time that Vaughn’s lawsuit was a “hotbed of misinformation.” In April, a judge in Alameda County rejected the company’s request to block Vaughn from seeking class action status for the suit.

An email to Tesla seeking comment was not immediately answered on Thursday; Tesla dissolved its press office last year and doesn’t usually respond to media inquiries.