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Racist Tesla staff drilled my buttocks, claims employee in lawsuit

Car firm says discrimination claims false, points to promotion

By Iain Thomson, 28 Mar 2017

Tesla is facing a lawsuit from an employee at its car factory who is making lurid claims about racial discrimination in the workplace.

DeWitt Lambert, 44, was working at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory where he claims [PDF] racial abuse was commonplace and management did nothing to stop it after his complaints. He says other staff routinely called him "nigger," talked about the size of his genitals, stole his tools, and pressed a drill gun onto his buttocks.

"This was my dream job and it turned into a nightmare," said Lambert. "When I began working at Tesla I was happier than I've ever been. Now, I've experienced discrimination worse than anything I experienced growing up in Alabama and I'm scared for my safety every evening when I leave the plant. I asked for help from Tesla's management and it never came."

Lambert joined the Tesla production line in June 2015, and says the harassment started almost immediately. After a few months he went to HR to complain, particularly about the use of the N word, but claims they did nothing and refused to shift him to a different assembly line.

By February, Lambert claims that his harassers had been promoted, in one case repeatedly, while the company denied him a promotion he had applied for. He says staff threatened to "shred you up in pieces," but when he showed a video of this to Tesla's HR nothing was done.

Lambert was eventually transferred to another production line but says the discrimination didn't stop. In addition, he says the work gave him back problems which weren't adequately addressed by the company. So he lawyered up and on Tuesday filed a lawsuit claiming 11 violations of employment law.

"The complaint alleges that Tesla failed, under California law, to take immediate and appropriate corrective action on Mr Lambert's behalf," said Lambert's lawyer Larry Organ.

"Because of this inaction my client is claiming psychological harm and medical problems. Tesla is liable for Mr Lambert's damages because it failed to adequately investigate and prevent damaging abuse from taking place in the workplace."

Two sides to every story

However, Tesla strongly disputes Lambert's claims and says they have the evidence to support their side of the story.

The company says that its HR department received a complaint from Lambert's coworkers saying that he had threatened them with violence. His threats were apparently filmed but the video wasn't shown to HR.

Later that day, Tesla says Lambert made a complaint against his coworkers "in an apparent attempt to turn the tables on the complaint." HR investigated, finding that his coworkers claimed Lambert was regularly swearing while working, but concluded no further action was needed.

In the meantime, the company says Lambert was warned repeatedly about posting photos from inside the factory on Facebook. He claims other staff did the same and weren't punished. In July 2016, he received a final warning about posting pictures of Tesla technology. He then showed HR a video taken the previous year showing his coworkers using racially insensitive language, Tesla says.

An investigation was launched into the case, but Tesla says the HR person left the company shortly afterwards and didn't hand off the case to any other staff. It has a series of text messages from Lambert in which he too used abusive language.

As for Lambert's claims about being refused promotion, Tesla says that he was promoted 12 months ago. Six months ago they got a letter from Lambert's lawyer "demanding a very large payment or he would file a lawsuit."

"We have terminated several employees based on what we've learned and have suspended DeWitt with pay so that we can finish investigating the circumstances of the instant messages that were just provided to us about his threats of violence against coworkers," a Tesla spokesperson said.

"We will continue to take action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work. However, it's also clear that DeWitt's version of events is not supported by the facts. It would never be right to take action based on an accusation alone – there must be objective evidence or credible witnesses to ensure that an innocent person is not treated unfairly." ®

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