A judge reduced the amount of money that Tesla will have to pay to a Black former employee who successfully sued the company for racial harassment and discrimination.
Last October, a jury awarded Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at Tesla for nine months in 2015–2016, $137 million in damages after he accused the company of ignoring racial abuse and discrimination.
On Wednesday, US District Judge William Orrick issued a ruling that said that Tesla was liable to Diaz but that the amount awarded to Diaz by jurors was “excessive.” Orrick slashed it by nearly 90 percent to $15 million while also rejecting Tesla’s motion to reduce the award amount to $300,000.
In his 43-page ruling, Orrick said the effect of the racial discrimination on Diaz was “profound” and called Tesla’s attempts to deny his experiences “watered down revisionism.” But he also determined that the amount awarded to Diaz could trigger a new trial, especially considering the punitive damages of $130 million seemed to exceed constitutional limits.
According to Reuters, Diaz’s legal team plans to appeal the lowered damages award. “We’re pleased that the court upheld the jury’s finding that Tesla’s conduct was absolutely reprehensible,” Bernard Alexander, a lawyer for Diaz, told Reuters. “The award of $15 million is substantial but does not come close to reflecting the harm caused to Mr. Diaz, or the reprehensibility of Tesla’s conduct.”
During the trial, Diaz told the court that “daily racist epithets” were used in Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California, including the n-word; that racist graffiti and cartoons appeared in his workspace and the toilets; and that he was told to “go back to Africa” by colleagues.
Diaz alleged that Tesla supervisors failed to consistently intervene in these issues, and he told the jury that the stress of the situation caused him to suffer weight loss and “sleepless nights.”
But the trial was seen as unusual based on the amount of money awarded to Diaz by the jury, with one expert calling it “the largest verdict in an individual race discrimination in employment case [history].”
This wasn’t the first time that Tesla has been ordered to pay a former employee in a harassment lawsuit. The company has faced numerous allegations of racial discrimination and harassment at its Fremont plant. Tesla reportedly paid $1 million to another former employee, Melvin Berry, who said he was called the n-word by a supervisor, and the company currently faces a class-action lawsuit alleging racism at the same facility.
Earlier this year, Tesla was sued by California’s civil rights agency for operating what it describes as a “racially segregated workplace.” The state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s case against Telsa describes a wide range of discriminatory behavior and harassment at the company’s Fremont factory.