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Tesla must pay ex-worker $15 million for “disturbing” racist abuse, judge rules

Enlarge / Cars parked at the Tesla Fremont Factory in Fremont, California, on February 10, 2022. (credit: Getty Images | Josh Edelson)

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected Tesla’s claim that it is not liable for “disturbing” racist abuse suffered by an ex-factory worker. US District Judge William Orrick rejected what he called Tesla’s “watered-down revisionism” that cast plaintiff Owen Diaz’s suffering as “mild and short-lived.”

The judge slashed Diaz’s financial award, however. While the jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages, Orrick set the amounts at $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $13.5 million in punitive damages instead. He wrote that the new compensatory amount of $1.5 million is “the highest award supported by the evidence” and that the punitive damages can be nine times that amount based on US law.

“The evidence was disturbing,” said Orrick’s ruling in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. “The jury heard that the Tesla factory was saturated with racism. Diaz faced frequent racial abuse, including the n-word and other slurs. Other employees harassed him. His supervisors and Tesla’s broader management structure did little or nothing to respond. And supervisors even joined in on the abuse, one going so far as to threaten Diaz and draw a racist caricature near his workstation.”

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