Tesla expanding in Texas as California sues company over its treatment of Black workers

click to enlarge Elon Musk appears at a press conference following one of his company SpaceX's launches. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / DANIEL OBERHAUS
WIkimedia Commons / Daniel Oberhaus
Elon Musk appears at a press conference following one of his company SpaceX's launches.
Billionaire Elon Musk's Telsa is reportedly gearing up an expansion of its $1 billion Texas manufacturing plant, a move that comes as California filed an explosive lawsuit alleging the firm discriminates against Black workers at its car factory there.

An affiliate of Musk's electric vehicle venture recently filed for a permit to expand its $1.1 billion Gigafactory in Austin to make cathodes, a component in its lithium-ion batteries, the Express-News reports. Tesla also revealed last month that its Texas plant quietly began producing a line of electric SUVs last fall.

News of the expansion breaks as a lawsuit filed Wednesday by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) suggests Tesla’s Texas relocation is a bid to shirk responsibility for ignoring “years of complaints from Black workers who protest commonplace use of racial slurs on the assembly line,” the Associated Press reports.

In addition to opening its Austin plant, Musk jerked Tesla’s headquarters out of Palo Alto, California last year and plopped it down in Austin. The relocation followed the billionaire's public pissing match with regulators over whether he could run his production lines during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

California's new 39-page lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges Musk set the tone for a discriminatory culture at its Bay Area car plant by telling workers to be “thick-skinned” about racial harassment, the AP reports. In the filing, regulators allege the company was slow to eradicate graffiti at the site using the N-word, calling Black workers terms such as "hood rats" and telling them to "go back to Africa."

The suit also maintains the plant was racially segregated and that the area predominantly staffed by Black employees was referred to as the “slave ship” or “the plantation,” the AP reports.

In a statement on its website, Tesla called California's lawsuit "misguided." The company said DFEH looked into 50 individual allegations of racial discrimination at the factory over the past five years and closed each without finding proof.

California's legal action, the automaker argues, runs counter to those earlier findings: "A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof."

However, those earlier complaints to the DFEH aren't the only allegations of a discriminatory culture at Tesla operations in California.

Last fall, a federal jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to a Black elevator operator who accused the carmaker of ignoring daily racist harassment he faced while working at the plant over a two-year stretch. Tesla is appealing the verdict.

What's more, a half dozen current and former Tesla employees filed lawsuits in December alleging the company didn't take adequate action to shield them from repeated sexual harassment. The company is trying to move those suits into arbitration, the AP reports.

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