Tesla is looking to have a completely new trial in its case against former worker Owen Diaz, who sued the company for racial discrimination and who was awarded a stunning $137 million jury verdict. Tesla argued that proceeding with a narrower trial focused on the issue of damages would end up violating the constitution.
In a filing in San Francisco federal court on Friday, Tesla’s legal team claimed that jurors could not really determine how much damages should be paid to Diaz unless they hear all the evidence related to the former employee’s claims. Diaz noted in a 2017 lawsuit that other Tesla employees had used racial slurs against him. He also saw swastikas on bathroom walls at the Fremont plant, and one of his supervisors reportedly drew a racist caricature near his workstation.
Last year, a jury awarded Diaz with a whopping $137 million, one of the largest ever in a single worker discrimination case. In April, however, US District Judge William Orrick stated that while the jury’s determination that Tesla was responsible for discrimination was supported by evidence, the $137 million verdict was excessive.
He then reduced the amount to $15 million, but the updated award was not appreciated by the former Tesla employee. Diaz’s lawyers argued that the $15 million award was unjust, so a new trial for damages was scheduled.
Orrick is expected to hold a trial for the damages on March. In its recent filing, Tesla’s legal team argued that telling the jury that the company had already been found liable for tolerating discrimination would end up skewing the case in favor of Diaz, according to a Reuters report. This, according to the Tesla legal team, would violate the company’s right to a fair trial under the US Constitution’s 7th Amendment.
Tesla also noted that since the issues of liability and damages are “inextricably interwoven,” Diaz should start from scratch and go for a full retrial. “The liability and damages here all turn on exactly the same thing: the purported extent, degree, and magnitude of racial slurs and symbols Mr. Diaz encountered at the Fremont factory,” Tesla’s legal team wrote.
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