Tesla Is In Hot Water As An Employee Is Suing Over Alleged Harassment And Racial Discrimination

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Mar 28, 2017
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Tesla has been under a lot of heat recently with some employees complaining about unfair work treatment and unsatisfactory conditions and pay at work. The company released a statement clarifying its position just a month ago. Now the company has refuted the claims of another lawsuit that was filed by an employee who alleged that he was a victim of racial discrimination and harassment for quite some time.

Tesla has refuted many claims that the employee has made

The employee, Dewitt Lambert, is a 44-year-old man who was working on one of the assembly lines at Tesla’s plant in California. He stated that he was subjected to racial slurs and lewd behavior from his co-workers for more than a year.

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“They would call him the N-word throughout his workday, talk about the size of his penis and even placed a drill gun into his buttocks,” according to the lawsuit — which was filed by the California Civil Rights Law Group.

Tesla is currently looking into the matter right now and Lambert is suspended with full pay for now. But they have refuted many claims that the lawsuit made, in a statement to TechCrunch.

“The lawsuit has been timed to coincide with a carefully planned media blitz in an attempt to create a disingenuous narrative that is at odds with the facts,” the car maker told TechCrunch in a statement.

Lambert stated that he was given multiple threats and was a victim of racial abuse from a group of former colleagues. He claimed that he went to the HR team of Tesla with the complains numerous times since the incident took place in 2015 (of which video evidence is also available now). But he wasn’t transferred to a new place until April 2016 and most of the workers who harassed him were also promoted while he was not.

Lambert was not promoted because of other reasons

Tesla said that its first investigation of the 2015 incident found that “there was no objective evidence that anything inappropriate occurred toward Dewitt.” It noted that Lambert had socialized outside of work with the accused employees and that he used “the same racially insensitive language that he had complained about,” suggesting that the incident had been taken out of context.

The company countered the claim that Lambert was not given a promotion by stating a fact that he was in fact promoted a year ago while a second promotion that he was a candidate for was denied after he violated company policy numerous times. Tesla stated that Lambert was given several warnings for posting pictures of “confidential” Tesla technology on Facebook which is obviously against company policy; he did not adhere to the warnings so his promotion was denied.

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Lambert’s case was reopened in July 2016 when previously unseen video evidence of the incident surfaced. But due to the HR representative, who was leading the case, leaving the company, the case was at a standstill. In Tesla’s words, the representative failed to pass over the reopened case to a colleague.

The accuser filed a complaint in revenge

The company confirmed that many employees who were related to the incident were terminated but they added that “Dewitt’s version of events is not supported by the facts.” Tesla said that the original complaint that Lambert filed was an act of revenge or an act of saving face by the employee because he believed that his coworkers had filmed him threatening a fellow worker and had provided the footage of that incident to the HR team. This was based on a Facebook Messenger conversation between Lambert and one of the accused workers. But the company said no such video relating to the incident was given to Tesla HR.

“[We] 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. We will continue to take action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work,” it added.

The full statement by the company is given below, it highlights some important things regarding the ongoing case:

We believe strongly in having a good working environment and that people should look forward to coming to work every day. That means Tesla must always aspire to be transparent, respectful, fair and just. When we hear complaints or concerns raised by our employees, we take them very seriously.

A video recently came to light showing behavior by a group of employees at our factory acting in a way that we found disappointing and contrary to our values. It appears that a lawsuit is now being filed against Tesla in connection with this video. In the interest of transparency, we want to share what we know:

Based on interviews we have done, in April 2016, an employee named Dewitt Lambert got into an argument with a coworker and threatened him with violence. Dewitt, this coworker, and other employees had been part of a group of friends who worked together at the factory and also socialized together outside of work. The other employee filmed Dewitt making the threat and Dewitt mistakenly believed that some of these other employees had provided the video to HR in order to get him in trouble. (In actuality, the video wasn’t provided to HR).

Later that day, in an apparent attempt to turn the tables on the complaint that he thought had been made against him, Dewitt filed a complaint with HR about these other employees, claiming it was they who had mistreated him, including by using racially insensitive language.

HR personnel investigated, interviewing all of the employees who were reportedly involved. That investigation turned up conflicting accounts of what happened, with other employees saying that Dewitt had the “dirtiest mouth” they had “ever heard,” including using the same racially insensitive language that he had complained about. In the end, there was no objective evidence that anything inappropriate occurred toward Dewitt. As a result, our HR team coached this group of employees on the importance of behaving professionally and the investigation was closed.

Dewitt thereafter was transferred to another work area where he would have no further contact with those he complained about. There are no records of him complaining about new events for about a year after this. It seems that the transfer had its intended effect.

On July 6, 2016, during an unrelated conversation with HR in which Dewitt was receiving a final written warning for posting proprietary photos of Tesla equipment on social media against company policy, Dewitt showed HR an old video (taken in late 2015) containing the kind of language that he had previously complained about. This was the first time any video was mentioned or shown. The investigation was reopened.

The HR representative who had led the prior investigation left the company two days later on July 8, 2016 and didn’t hand off the investigation to anyone else.

Although Dewitt continued to have regular interaction with HR on a host of topics, for which he thanked them for their support, we have no evidence indicating that he came to HR with any further complaints of this nature. Then, through an attorney, Dewitt submitted a letter six months later demanding a very large payment or he would file a lawsuit.

Once again, we looked into his claims and found that the co-workers Dewitt complained about described the situation very differently. They claimed once again they had all been friends and socialized outside of work, and that all of them (including Dewitt) used similar insensitive language with each other on a regular, ongoing basis, including in social contexts outside of the workplace.

Confirming this, one of the employees Dewitt accused shared personal instant messages (attached) which showed Dewitt using the same language when describing other colleagues involved in the argument from April 2016. One of those messages indicated why he apparently decided to make these accusations – he was upset because of his belief that these colleagues had turned a video into HR showing Dewitt threatening one of them. The employee stated this was what led Dewitt to conjure up false claims about these other individuals.

Dewitt alleges that he was not promoted as retaliation for having made complaints. This is false. Dewitt was promoted 12 months ago, and the reason he wasn’t given a second promotion within 12 months is that, among other things, he had been given a final written warning for posting pictures of confidential Tesla technology on Facebook in clear violation of company policy.

That brings us to today. We have been told by Dewitt’s attorney that they will be following up on their previous demand for a large payment by filing a lawsuit. The lawsuit has been timed to coincide with a carefully planned media blitz in an attempt to create a disingenuous narrative that is at odds with the facts.

It’s clear that our investigation should have continued uninterrupted until all the facts were known. 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. 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.

It is night and day to work at a company with strong purpose and great team spirit, where people look forward to coming to work. Monday either feels like jail or joy, and the people you work with make all the difference in the world.

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