Tesla to defend lawsuit against ex-employee who appeared in Audi Super Bowl ad

Tesla will defend itself in a lawsuit in Federal Court against an ex-employee and former Oregon State football player who says he was fired from the company after appearing in a Super Bowl ad for Audi. The former Tesla employee, Naymon Frank, alleges he was racially discriminated against and fired from a store management position after appearing in a Super Bowl ad for the German automotive company in 2020.

Frank, who filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County, claims CEO Elon Musk made the decision to fire him after he appeared in a 2020 Super Bowl Commercial. Additionally, Frank, an African-American, says he was subjected to racial discrimination throughout his tenure at Tesla and was passed over for promotions at least four times. He also says he was the subject of “racially-based comments and insults,” a report from Bloomberg Law said. Frank’s complaint also added that he was “the only African-American manager” companywide at the time of his employment.

Tesla officially removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California yesterday, stating Frank named his manager at the time as a defendant in order to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction, the report said. Frank’s manager, Suzie Hatzis, and Frank are both California residents. Tesla was organized and formed under Delaware law and its Headquarters are no longer located in the Golden State. Tesla moved its HQ to Austin, Texas, late last year.

Frank states he had permission to appear in the ad for Audi, as the complaint states management knew that he “had requested and was given permission by Tesla management to appear in the Audi e-tron commercial.” However, Frank says in the complaint that Tesla’s reasoning for his resignation or termination was for appearing in the commercial, which was a conflict of interest. He alleges the request was a pretext.

The complaint also says Frank suffered substantial financial losses in stock benefits because the company “wrongfully constructively terminated before his stock options fully vested at four years of employment” with Tesla.

The 2020 Super Bowl between the Chiefs and 49ers was played on January 31. Frank’s complaint says he was asked to resign, or he would be terminated, on February 1.

The lawsuit comes at a time when Tesla is fending off racial discrimination lawsuits, including one from the California DFEH. Last year, a former employee at Tesla’s Fremont Factory was awarded $137 million in a settlement due to racial discrimination. Tesla said it planned to appeal the suit.

The case is Frank v. Tesla Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 22-cv-01590. Audi’s 2020 Super Bowl ad is available below.

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Joey Klender: Joey has been a journalist covering electric mobility at TESLARATI since August 2019. In his time at TESLARATI, Joey has broken several big stories, including the first images of the Tesla Model S Plaid, the imminent release of the 4680 Model Y through EPA certification, and several expansions to the Lucid AMP-1 factory in Arizona, to name a few. His stories have been featured in several publications, including Yahoo! Finance, Fox News, CNET, and Seeking Alpha. In his spare time, Joey is playing golf, watching MMA, or cheering on any of his favorite sports teams, including the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles, Miami Heat, Washington Capitals, and Penn State Nittany Lions. You can get in touch with joey at joey@teslarati.com. He is also on Twitter @KlenderJoey.
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