For a company claiming to create the car of the future, Tesla’s Freemont, CA plant sounds like it’s racing back to the days of slavery or apartheid from Elon Musk’s country South Africa. The Los Angeles Times reports over 4,000 current and former workers are suing the car manufacturer for racist discrimination and harassment, making it the largest racial discrimination suit in California’s history. It sounds like the only thing Tesla succeeded at producing more efficiently was a toxic environment festering with systematic exclusion, racist harassment, and verbal abuse according to the lawsuit. Employees claim they were regularly called “monkeys” and the N-word by managers and colleagues.
“Race plays no role in any of Tesla’s work assignments, promotions, pay or discipline,” the company’s attorneys wrote in a statement. “Tesla prohibits discrimination, in any form.” However, there are consistent claims that when Black employees complained about unfair treatment or racist slurs used against them, they were either ignored or fired for speaking up. Monica Chatman, a single mother with two jobs, was eager to work for Tesla back in 2016 until the workplace lived up to its “plantation” nickname.
“There was a time where I worked three months straight — no days off,” Chatman explained. Black workers were forced to do “the work nobody wanted to do — that was more wear and tear on the body.” She described it as “modern-day slavery.”In addition to being forced to do the most back-breaking labor with the least amount of help, Black employees were segregated to work in “the nastiest, most uncomfortable” areas that were freezing in winter and unbearably hot with no air conditioning in summer. These areas where only Black people were assigned were also allegedly referred to as “the slave ship.” “There were hardly any white workers over there,” said Kimberly Romby, a former Tesla materials handler. “It was hell in the summer.” When the Black workers took too long or made mistakes because they were understaffed or overworked, they claim supervisors used it to justify more racism with comments like “Them n— over there … they’re lazy.” In addition to mandatory overtime and no days off, Romby claims they were the only employees expected to do “general cleaning” while non-Black workers got to rest during downtime. The threats to fire Black team members for small mistakes or speaking up about unfair treatment weren’t empty. Tesla justified firing Chatman and forcing out Romby by claiming they were the ones under investigation for misconduct and mistreating colleagues. However, attorneys for both women say Tesla never produced their employment records to prove it, which is the company’s legal duty under the California Labor Code. According to attorney Lawrence Organ, this is “the same tactic” used against the Black elevator operator who won a $137 million settlement for racist abuse and harassment that Tesla ignored. What does Elon Musk think about how his Black employees are treated? He doesn’t even want them in his sight when he walked through the factory, according to the lawsuit. “They didn’t want a Black face up there,” Chatman said about the billionaire’s visits. If Elon Musk is running a “plantation” in his factory, it’s time for a rebellion.