Ex-Tesla employee seeks do-over after $137M jury award gets reduced $97.6%

(Credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s legal dispute with a former contract worker who accused the company of racial discrimination isn’t over just yet. In a recent update, Owen Diaz, who previously worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont Factory, indicated that he is seeking another retrial.

Diaz, who was awarded $3.2 million in a second trial over alleged racial abuse he experienced while working at Tesla, claimed that the trial proceedings were affected by unjustifiable character attacks from Tesla’s attorney. Tesla, for its part, is requesting a 45% reduction in the punitive damages awarded to Diaz, dubbing them “manifestly erroneous.”

Diaz’s case against Tesla caught headlines when he received a $137 million jury verdict in 2021. The former contract employee had claimed that he endured numerous racial attacks while working at the California plant. The substantial $137 million award was one of the largest ever for an individual suing over discrimination in the US.

However, while the $137 million jury verdict was historic, a judge later noted that the maximum compensation Diaz was entitled to was $15 million. Diaz refused to accept the judge’s stance, which ultimately led to a retrial. The retrial resulted in a $3.2 million verdict, 97.6% smaller than the initial $137 million jury verdict.

In a court filing, Diaz’s attorneys described the case’s retrial as flawed. The former Tesla contract worker’s legal team accused the company’s attorney, Alex Spiro, of calling them “phony civil rights lawyers” and repeatedly disparaging Diaz. Diaz’s legal team further claimed that Spiro violated trial regulations by introducing prohibited evidence, incorrectly questioning Diaz’s witnesses, and suggesting that Tesla had already compensated Diaz.

Diaz’s attorney, Michael Rubin, argued that the judge’s instructions to the jury to set the record straight on the matter ultimately ended up “highlighting Tesla’s poisonous messaging.” “There was no meaningful way to wipe Tesla’s improper accusations and suggestions from the jury’s consciousness,” Rubin noted, as noted in a Bloomberg News report.

Diaz’s legal team is requesting US District Judge William Orrick to order a new trial. The lawyer also noted that Tesla’s “misconduct” is the only plausible explanation behind the drastic reduction of the $137 million jury award since the case’s underlying facts have not changed.

Tesla and its attorney, Alex Spiro, are yet to issue a comment on the matter.

Interestingly, Tesla has noted in its own court filing that the $3 million in punitive damages awarded by the jury is constitutionally disproportionate to Diaz’s relatively modest compensatory damages. A similar argument was made by Tesla when it challenged the case’s original $137 million jury verdict. Tesla has stated that Diaz should receive no more than $1.75 million in total damages.

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Ex-Tesla employee seeks do-over after $137M jury award gets reduced $97.6%
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