Tesla request to move sexual harassment lawsuit to arbitration thrown out

Tesla exhibits its electric cars and energy products at the 2018 LA Auto Show. [Credit: Christian Prenzler/Teslarati]

Updated with new information in the third, fifth, and sixth paragraphs at 3:59 PM ET.

Tesla’s request to move a sexual harassment lawsuit to arbitration, which would move the case to be heard in private, was thrown out by California Superior Court Judge Stephen Kaus on Monday.

The lawsuit accuses Tesla workers and supervisors at the company’s Fremont plant in Northern California of sexually harassing plaintiff Jessica Barraza. Barraza filed the lawsuit in November, and her attorneys argued yesterday that an arbitration agreement she signed was invalid because it required her to bring legal claims in confidential proceedings, which would still allow Tesla to sue in open court, a report from Reuters said.

Judge Kaus threw out Tesla’s request because “Basically, Barraza was ambushed,” he said, according to her attorneys who contacted Teslarati with a statement. Judge Kaus added Tesla’s mandatory arbitration scheme was “unconscionable,” stating it was also unenforceable as Tesla “reserved its right to go to court for the claims it is likely to have and has relegated Barraza to arbitration for her likely claims.”

Brazza said in her complaint that co-workers and superiors who supervised operations routinely made lewd or inappropriate comments and gestures to female employees. The lawsuit claims Tesla failed to address the complaints submitted that made management aware of the situation.

Barraza’s lawyer David Lowe said the decision was “a victory for public accountability” because it would allow Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker, to be “judged by a jury of Ms. Barraza’s peers in a public courtroom.”

“Because of this ruling, Tesla will not be able to hide behind the closed doors of confidential arbitration,” Lowe added.

Private arbitration is where the parties involved in a lawsuit fix their own terms to govern how their dispute is going to be resolved. It is advantageous in some instances because it gives the parties more freedom to resolve the conflict with terms that fit the circumstances involved.

Tesla has fought several lawsuits in Northern California over the past several years, all with instances of harassment or discrimination being alleged against employees who work at the plant. In addition to Barraza’s claims of sexual harassment, Tesla had a lawsuit filed against it by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which claimed the company has had a culture of segregation since 2012. Additionally, a former African American worker at the factory, Owen Diaz, was awarded a massive $137 million payout due to his lawsuit against the automaker. It was recently reduced to just $15 million.

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Tesla request to move sexual harassment lawsuit to arbitration thrown out
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