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African American worker says Tesla is a ‘hotbed for racist behavior’ in lawsuit

An African-American employee sued Tesla for racial harassment, describing its California factory as a “hotbed for racist behavior.” The company, which was hit with a string of lawsuits last year, has been criticized for not doing enough to address allegations of racial discrimination and harassment at its facility.

Marcus Vaughn is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit that was filed against Tesla in Alameda County Superior Court in November. Vaughn worked at the electric carmaker’s Fremont manufacturing facility from April to October 2017. He said he was one of over a hundred African-American workers who were subjected to pervasive harassment at Tesla.

Vaughn said coworkers and supervisors repeatedly called him the “n-word.” According to the lawsuit, Tesla failed to investigate a written complaint he had filed with human resources. Instead, Vaughn said the company fired him for lacking “a positive attitude.”

Tesla responded to the lawsuit with a blog post titled “Hotbed of Misinformation,” challenging the statements made in the complaint. The company said Vaughn was actually employed by a temp agency, not Tesla. Instead of being fired, he left his job after the completion of his six-month contract.

The carmaker said it looked into the alleged use of racial language and threatening comments by workers who were on or near Vaughn’s team. Three individuals were fired after the investigation. Tesla also addressed an email that founder and CEO Elon Musk sent to employees in May that Vaughn quoted in his complaint. The email read, “In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”

The email and Tesla’s blog post have been viewed as dismissing workers’ complaints of racial discrimination and harassment rather than taking concrete steps to address the issues. In addition to Vaughn’s lawsuit, Tesla is a defendant in at least three other such cases.

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