California is trying to force Tesla to comply with racial bias investigation

by Ana Lopez

California regulators are taking legal action against Tesla to compel the company to comply with a state investigation into allegations of unlawful harassment and discrimination against certain Black Tesla employees.

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) said Thursday it is seeking an injunction that will parallel the state’s current lawsuit against allegations of employment discrimination. The agency originally filed a lawsuit in February 2022 after receiving it complaints from black workers protesting “the near-constant use of racist slurs in the workplace and the presence of racist writing and graffiti in common areas of the workplace.”

In a filing with Alameda County Superior Court, the CRD said it subpoenaed Tesla on March 3 for a statement from a person most knowledgeable about “the alleged misconduct and related policies and procedures.” The CRD said in a statement that Tesla refused to make the person available.

“Tesla’s failure to comply with my office’s obligation to investigate allegations of workplace misconduct demonstrates a lack of respect for the rights and well-being of their employees,” CRD Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.

According to court documents, Tesla did not respond to the CRD’s subpoena until late March, when the CRD resorted to sending a zoom link for the statement. Tesla responded and objected to the impeachment request on the grounds that the CRD abused its investigative powers.

The agency said Tesla claimed there wasn’t enough time to locate the witness. The CRD then offered a “tolling agreement,” an agreed deadline between the agency and Tesla to choose an impeachment date, but Tesla refused to compromise, according to court documents.

Now the CRD is seeking an injunction to show why Tesla has “failed to fully respond to the research discovery” and force the automaker to comply with the CRD’s requests. And as icing on the cake, the CRD also wants Tesla to pay attorney fees in the amount of $1,425.

The CRD says it has the right and responsibility under California law to investigate any complaint of civil rights violations.

“The California Civil Rights Department will not tolerate any attempt to impede our investigation,” Kish said. “My office is simply trying to fulfill its legal duty to investigate allegations of discrimination. Tesla is not above the law.”

Over the past year, Tesla has tried a number of methods to get out of the CRD lawsuit. The automaker has attempted to suspend and settle the lawsuit out of court, have the case dismissed and petition the CRD for alleged failure to conduct due diligence before suing the automaker – all of which were rejected . Tesla also opposed the CRD for adopting alleged “underground regulations” in its investigations.

The California agency’s lawsuit against Tesla is one of many charges against the company for allowing harassment — both racial and sexual — to run rampant in its factories. A California judge last week ordered Tesla to pay $3.2 million to a black former employee at its Fremont plant.

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court allowed minority workers at the same plant to seek a court order requiring Tesla to recognize a climate of racial discrimination and take steps to end it.

The judges unanimously rejected Tesla’s petition to appeal a ruling in January in which two black employees sought damages after racial discrimination at the factory. The damages suit is expected to proceed as a class action, possibly on behalf of thousands of current and former employees, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is apparently the first time such a ruling has been made in California, and it will set a precedent for courts statewide.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the CRD’s injunction or the state’s Supreme Court ruling.

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