At a crowded Fremont Factory meeting, female employees shared stories of sexual harassment, mistreatment by male managers, unfair promotion decisions and more, sources told The Guardian.
One of the women there was AJ Vandermeyden, the female engineer who sued the company for pervasive harassment and pay discrimination. Shortly after this town hall took place, Vandermeyden was fired.
“They just want to absolutely crush anyone who speaks up,” Vandermeyden told the news outlet. “I spoke up, and I was made a sacrificial lamb for it. It’s a scary precedent.”
Tesla has rejected Vandermeyden’s claims, saying she was terminated for “falsely attacking our company in the press.”
CEO Elon Musk did not attend the meeting of about 70-100 people. More than 20 women talked about their experiences, according to Vandermeyden and another attendee, with one woman describing parts of the company’s Fremont factory as a “predator zone” for harassment.
Vandermeyden also said that a number of women raised their hands when asked if they had been catcalled in the factory.
Some women allegedly talked about feeling unsafe and facing sexist remarks from superiors, while others talked about being dismissed and talked over in meetings with no other female employees.
One male leader spoke up and said it was unacceptable, and noted that he had daughters, according to Vandermeyden
A former female manager, who was present but no longer works for the company, told The Guardian she was offended by that comment: “It’s insulting. You shouldn’t have to have daughters to know this.”
Tesla countered by saying that “executives attended because they wanted to hear directly from employees about their experiences and learn about how to improve the workplace,” in an email obtained by The Guardian.
Tesla further disputed the news outlet’s characterization of the event by saying, “Employees stood up to ask the executives questions, share their experiences at Tesla — both positive and negative — while others spoke of things that they believed Tesla was doing right and some came with suggestions. In some instances, employees were only looking for better collaboration with their HR business partners in general and had nothing to do with any allegations of harassment.”
The company statement said that when an employee referenced an area of the factory as a “predator zone,” it “surprised many in the room who had never heard of this term.”
Tesla said that immediately after the meeting, a factory-wide message to supervisors about its “strict policy against any kind of harassment” was sent, adding, “Any complaints of catcalling in the factory are thoroughly investigated and action is taken where necessary.”
According to The Guardian, Tesla also said that “there was a lot of energy around ensuring we are proactively sourcing diverse talent and ensuring that we have an interview and assessment process that is free from bias.”
Vandermeyden said she spoke at the meeting because “it was finally giving women a venue to voice what was going on. It felt like Tesla had been saying I’m making all this up. And here were all the women saying, ‘No, it’s happening.’ It’s too big to deny.”
Vandermeyden first got national attention when she went public with her lawsuit in February of this year, although the lawsuit was filed in September 2016.
She had been with Tesla since April of 2013, and alleged that during her time there she was subjected to behavior including “inappropriate language, whistling, and cat calls” at the hands of the mostly male staff. She further claims that she was paid less than her male colleagues despite performing work “equal in skill, effort, and responsibility.”
Vandermeyden also says that her attempts to raise concerns about the quality testing of cars and office behavior toward women were ignored by male superiors.
Tesla confirmed Vandermeyden’s firing at the time saying:
“Despite repeatedly receiving special treatment at the expense of others, Ms. Vandermeyden nonetheless chose to pursue a miscarriage of justice by suing Tesla and falsely attacking our company in the press,” a spokesperson said. “After we carefully considered the facts on multiple occasions and were absolutely convinced that Ms. Vandermeyden’s claims were illegitimate, we had no choice but to end her employment at Tesla.”
This follows cases of alleged harassment at other tech companies, with Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick recently resigning amid a reportedly turbulent office culture.
As for not working at Tesla anymore, Vandermeyden had the following to say:
“I was never your enemy,” she said. “I still believe in the importance of transitioning the world to sustainable energy, but now I don’t get to be a part of it.”