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Tesla subjects women to ‘rampant’ harassment, suit says

Tesla Inc.’s female employees face “rampant sexual harassment,” according to a lawsuit by a woman who works in the electric carmaker’s Fremont, California, factory.

Jessica Barraza, 38, said in a complaint filed Thursday in state court in Oakland that she experienced “nightmarish” conditions as a night-shift worker at Tesla, with co-workers and supervisors making lewd comments and gestures to her and other women multiple times a week. When she complained to supervisors and human resources, they failed to take action, Barraza says.

She suffers from panic attacks as a result of three years of such behavior and “is afraid to return to work knowing that her body could be violated at any time with no repercussions,” according to the complaint. “She is on medication and in therapy, and she is not the same person she used to be.”

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment. Barraza’s suit was reported earlier by The Washington Post.

The case comes as Tesla is already facing what it called a “staggering” $137 million jury verdict in favor of a former contract worker who said he experienced pervasive racism at the Fremont factory. Tesla is now challenging that award.

A juror in that case told Bloomberg News that the panel hoped to prod Tesla executives to “take the most basic preventative measures and precautions they neglected to take as a large corporation to protect any employee within their factory.” 

Tesla has been dogged by allegations of discrimination at its Fremont plant for years, but most employees are bound by arbitration agreements that keep cases confidential. 

For two years, Tesla investors have tried to compel the company to disclose more information about how it uses arbitration with employees via a shareholder resolution. Each time, the company’s board was opposed to the effort, and the resolution failed to get enough votes to pass despite growing support.

“Tesla has carved out the right to go to court on the claims that are important to them while prohibiting employees from doing the same,” David A. Lowe, an attorney for Barraza and partner at Rudy Exelrod Zieff & Lowe, said about Tesla’s use of arbitration. 

Barraza’s case is “so important on the merits,” he said. “It’s such an egregious and compelling situation that Jessica describes.”

Other women have filed complaints about their experience working at Tesla. Rebecca Spates, a Black woman who joined Tesla in June 2019 through a staffing agency, alleged in a lawsuit she was subject to discrimination over her race, gender and age. Among other claims, Spate complained to management about a co-worker touching her buttocks, according to the complaint filed in September in Alameda County Superior Court. 

Ex-Tesla Employee Called Racial Slur Wins Rare $1 Million Award

In 2020, 31 complaints were filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination at Tesla on the basis of race, age, gender expression, disability and pregnancy, according to data obtained from public records. The state agency issued right-to-sue letters in a majority of the cases; a handful were closed with insufficient evidence.

The case is Barraza v. Tesla, 21-cv-2714, Superior Court of California, Alameda County.

(Updates with attorney’s comment in ninth paragraph.)

 

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