On Wednesday, April 13, United States District Judge William H. Orrick reduced the $137 million reward granted by jurors to former Tesla employee Owen Diaz to $15 million. Diaz had accused Tesla of racial discrimination.
Judge Orrick reduced the award of compensatory damages to $1.5 million and maintained the award for punitive damages to $13.5 million. Previously, the jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages.
“Tesla’s motion for a remittitur—that is, a reduction in the amount of damages—is granted in part. Great deference is owed to the jury’s verdict, but after careful review of the record, I conclude that the award of compensatory damages was excessive. I will not reduce it to $300,000, as Tesla advocates. It will be remitted to $1.5 million, the highest award supported by the evidence.
“The punitive damages award must also be remitted under Supreme Court precedent imposing constitutional limitations on punitive damages. But again, I will not reduce it to the one- to-one ratio to compensatory damages that Tesla urges. I conclude that, on these facts, the Constitution permits a punitive-damages award of $13.5 million—nine times the amount of compensatory damages,” Judge Orrick wrote.
Tesla advocated for a reduction in compensatory damages to $300,000, which Judge Orrick denied. However, in January 2022, the federal judge stated that he was inclined to reduce damages as they were “extremely high.” The federal judge also denied Tesla’s request for a new trial. “[T]he weight of the evidence amply supports the jury’s liability findings,” said court documents.
Larry Organ, Diaz’ attorney, told Bloomberg that a $15 million reward is still a sizable one, even though it is significantly lower than the initial $137 awarded by the jury. David Oppenheimer from Berkeley Law stated that Diaz’s $15 million award remains one of the highest in a racial discrimination or employment discrimination case.
Diaz worked at Tesla’s Fremont Factory in California. He reported seeing the N-word, swastikas, and the phrase “death to all [N-words],” in the bathroom of the Fremont factory. He reported the incidents to his supervisor, who advised janitorial staff to take pictures of graffiti they found while cleaning the bathroom. Diaz also stated in court that some employees would call him the N-word while he worked at Tesla.
Diaz also testified that Tesla supervisor Ramon Martinez told him to “go back to Africa,” called him the N-word, and “I hate you [N-word].” He wrote an email that stated he did not feel safe around Martinez. These are only some of the racial discrimination Diaz experienced.