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Ex-Tesla employee awarded $137M in 2021 offered $3.2M after rejecting judge’s $15M suggestion

(Credit: Tesla)

On Monday, a federal jury in San Francisco noted that Tesla must pay about $3.2 million to Owen Diaz, a former employee who won a racial harassment lawsuit against the electric vehicle manufacturer. This amount is significantly lower than the $15 million Diaz rejected last year in favor of a new trial.

Back in 2021, another jury awarded Diaz $137 million, comprised of $7 million in damages for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages. Diaz had accused Tesla of failing to respond to his repeated complaints about racist slurs, swastikas, and racist caricatures while he was working as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory.

US District Judge William Orrick noted that Tesla was indeed liable in Diaz’ case, but the $137 million was excessive. He lowered the jury award to $15 million. Diaz rejected the judge’s lowered award, opting for a retrial instead. 

“In rejecting the court’s excessive reduction by asking for a new trial, Mr. Diaz is again asking a jury of his peers to evaluate what Tesla did to him and to provide just compensation for the torrent of racist slurs that was directed at him,” Diaz’s lawyers noted at the time. 

During his closing arguments on Friday, Bernard Alexander, a lawyer for Diaz, encouraged jurors to award the former Tesla employee almost $160 million in damages. According to Diaz’s lawyers, awarding $160 million in damages would send a message to companies like Tesla that they would be held accountable for similar actions. 

“Mr. Diaz’s outlook on the world has been permanently changed. That is what happens when you take away a person’s safety,” the lawyer said. 

Tesla lawyer Alex Spiro, on the other hand, took issue with the plaintiff’s points. “They’re just throwing numbers up on the screen like this is some kind of game show,” Spiro said. 

The jury ultimately awarded Diaz $175,000 for emotional distress and $3 million in punitive damages.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk expressed his belief that the verdict would have been zero if the judge had permitted the company to present new evidence during the retrial. Nonetheless, Musk stated that he respected the jury’s decision. Tesla, for its part, maintains that it takes worker complaints seriously and does not tolerate discrimination in the workplace.

“If we had been allowed to introduce new evidence, the verdict would’ve been zero imo. Jury did the best they could with the information they had. I respect the decision,” Musk commented on Twitter.

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Ex-Tesla employee awarded $137M in 2021 offered $3.2M after rejecting judge’s $15M suggestion
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