Tesla has officially challenged the $137 million settlement in the case of Owen Diaz, a contract worker who won a lawsuit against the electric automaker where he alleged racial discrimination occurred at the company’s Fremont factory in Northern California. Tesla argues that the $137 million sum is “staggering,” and should pay $600,000 to Diaz, based on settlements in other workplace racial harassment cases.
A Tuesday filing from Tesla requested a new trial for the case and also believed that the damages awarded to Diaz in the original case are unreasonable. “The jury award here, a staggering $136.9 million, simply cannot stand,” Tesla said in the filing, originally obtained by Bloomberg. “It is an award without precedent in US anti-discrimination law. It dwarfs awards in similar — and even in the most egregious — cases. And it bears no relationship to the actual evidence at trial.”
Tesla is suggesting the case be handled in a manner that is comparable to other workplace harassment cases. This would effectively lower the payout amount considerably, from the $137 million a jury felt Diaz was entitled to, to $600,000: $300,000 for emotional distress and $300,000 for punitive damages.
On the day of the settlement’s finalization by a San Francisco jury, Tesla VP of People Valerie Capers Workman stated that some employees testified that racial slurs were regularly heard in the Fremont factory, regularly used by African-American workers amongst themselves. However, vandalism and graffiti depicting racist symbols were found in the factory’s bathroom. These were removed by custodial staff. Diaz also submitted written complaints to non-Tesla supervisors, as he worked for a third-party contractor. Two contractors were terminated, another was suspended due to Diaz’s requests. He stated later that he was “very satisfied” with the handling of the situation. Diaz also reportedly encouraged family members to work at the plant, and did not complain about racial terms until Tesla denied him a full-time position.
Capers Workman did not detail whether Tesla would file an appeal, but the company stated in its 10-Q filing with the SEC in October that it planned to challenge the verdict of the trial. The company wrote:
“On October 4, 2021, in a case captioned Diaz v. Tesla, a jury in the Northern District of California returned a verdict of $136.9 million against Tesla on claims by a former contingent worker that he was subjected to race discrimination while assigned to work at Tesla’s Fremont factory from 2015-2016. The Company does not believe that the facts and law justify the verdict and intends to pursue next steps in post-trial motions and on appeal.”
Tesla will attempt to have its payout amount readjusted considerably.