The New York State Common Retirement Fund is currently urging Texas-based electric vehicle maker Tesla to disclose how much the company spends on settling complaints related to sexual harassment and racial discrimination. The Fund’s requests were filed in a shareholder proposal last week after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed its high-profile racism case against Tesla.
As per the resolution outlined in the Fund’s shareholder proposal, it would be best for Tesla to publish an annual report indicating how much it paid in settlements related to harassment and discrimination complaints. The Fund also urged Tesla to provide specifics on the progress it has made in decreasing the time it takes to settle grievances. The EV maker was urged to disclose the number of pending cases it is looking to rectify internally and through litigation as well.
The NY Pension Fund described its proposal in the following section:
“Shareholders request the Board of Directors of Tesla, Inc. to oversee the preparation of an annual public report describing and quantifying the effectiveness and outcomes of Company efforts to prevent harassment and discrimination against protected classes of employees, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
“The report should disclose the Company’s progress on relevant metrics and targets, such as: (a) the total number and aggregate dollar amount of disputes settled by the company related to abuse, harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, service member status, gender identity, or sexual orientation; (b) the company’s progress toward reducing the average length of time it takes to resolve sexual harassment or discrimination complaints, either through internal processes or through litigation; and (c) the total number of pending harassment or discrimination complaints the company is seeking to resolve through internal processes or through litigation.
“This report should not include the names of accusers or details of their settlements without their consent and should be prepared at a reasonable cost and omit any information that is proprietary, privileged, or violative of contractual obligations.”
These pieces of information, according to the Fund, are material to shareholders. This is especially true since civil rights violations could easily result in notable costs for the EV maker. A good example of this was a $137 million jury verdict against Tesla, which was announced following a lawsuit by a former employee who accused the company of racial discrimination. Tesla is currently challenging the $137 jury verdict, which U.S. District Judge William Orrick has described as “extremely high.”
The NY Pension Fund explained this in the following section:
“Information concerning complaints, legal disputes, and settlements (individually and in the aggregate) are of great interest, and often material to investors. The SEC has shown increased attention to human capital management issues, as demonstrated by its 2020 rulemaking, and Chairman Gensler’s public comments about upcoming additional disclosure proposals and characterization of workforce as a ‘key asset.’ There have been several high-profile derivative suits settled recently, including at Twentieth Century Fox, Wynn Resorts, and Alphabet, alleging boards breached their duties for failing to protect employees from discrimination and harassment, injuring the companies and their shareholders.”
“A report such as the one requested would assist shareholders in assessing whether the Company is improving its workforce management. Civil rights violations within the workplace can result in substantial costs to companies, including fines and penalties, legal costs, costs related to absenteeism, and reduced productivity. A company’s failure to properly manage its workforce can damage corporate goodwill, making it more difficult to retain and recruit employees, and jeopardize relationships with customers and partners.”
The New York State Common Retirement Fund is among the company’s shareholders that have decided to put some pressure on Tesla following the California DFEH’s lawsuit. Other notable shareholders in the EV maker, such as Baron Capital, Vanguard Group Inc., BlackRock Inc., Capital group, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, and Fidelity Investments, have so far been silent about the issue. Tesla has not issued a response to the NY Pension Fund’s proposal either, though the company has outlined its stance against the DFEH’s racism case in a blog post published on its website.
In its blog post, Tesla noted that the DFEH has so far declined to provide the company with specific allegations or factual basis for its lawsuit. The EV maker also noted that over the past five years, the DFEH had been asked on almost 50 occasions to investigate the company, but each one of these was closed with the agency finding no fault in Tesla.
“Over the past five years, the DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions by individuals who believe they were discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. On every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, it did not find misconduct against Tesla. It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla. A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof,” Tesla noted.
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