© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Motorists drive past Tesla’s primary vehicle factory in Fremont, California, U.S. May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – A Black former elevator operator at Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc’s flagship California assembly plant began testifying on Wednesday in a trial over how much the electric vehicle maker must pay for subjecting him to severe racial harassment by coworkers.
The plaintiff, Owen Diaz, is expected to testify for roughly four hours about the psychological toll exacted on him by a torrent of racial slurs, threats and other incidents during the nine months in 2015 that he worked at the automaker’s factory in Fremont, California.
Diaz’s testimony will likely stretch into Thursday. The five-day trial on damages, in federal court in San Francisco, comes after a jury in 2021 found Tesla liable for discrimination and ordered the company to pay Diaz $137 million. The trial began on Monday.
A judge last year agreed with the jury that the EV maker had fostered a hostile work environment but slashed the award to $15 million. Diaz rejected the lower payout and opted for a new trial on damages before a different jury.
Bernard Alexander, a lawyer for Diaz, during opening statements on Monday compared the Fremont plant to a “plantation” where Black workers were targeted for harassment and their complaints were ignored by managers.
Tesla has maintained that it does not tolerate workplace harassment and takes discrimination complaints seriously. The company’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, told jurors on Monday that Diaz was exaggerating his claims of emotional distress and there was no evidence warranting a multimillion-dollar award.
Jurors have heard testimony from five workers and supervisors at the Fremont plant, a Tesla human resources manager and a lawyer who conducts investigations into workplace disputes and served as an expert witness for Diaz.
The lawyer testified that while Tesla had adopted adequate anti-bias policies, the company failed to properly investigate and respond to complaints from Diaz and other Black workers.