A Black former elevator operator at Tesla flagship California assembly plant has rejected a US$15 million award in his lawsuit alleging racial abuse by coworkers, opening the door for a new trial after a judge slashed a US$137 million jury verdict.
Lawyers for Owen Diaz, who had sued Tesla in 2017, turned down the judge's award in a brief filing in federal court in San Francisco. They said in a statement that the award was unjust and would not deter future misconduct by Tesla.
"In rejecting the court’s excessive reduction by asking for a new trial, Mr. Diaz is again asking a jury of his peers to evaluate what Tesla did to him and to provide just compensation for the torrent of racist slurs that was directed at him," his lawyers said.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
US District Judge William Orrick lowered the jury award, which was one of the largest of its kind in a discrimination lawsuit, to US$15 million in April. He had also denied Tesla's motion for a new trial, conditioned on Diaz's acceptance of the lower award.
Earlier this month the judge denied Diaz's motion for permission to appeal that ruling and gave him two weeks to accept the lower award or agree to a new trial.
Tesla is facing a series of lawsuits involving alleged widespread race discrimination and sexual harassment at its Fremont, California factory, including one by a California civil rights agency.
Last week, a Tesla shareholder filed a lawsuit accusing the company's chief executive, Elon Musk, and board of directors of neglecting worker complaints and fostering a toxic workplace culture.
Tesla has denied wrongdoing and says it has policies in place to prevent and address workplace misconduct.
Diaz alleged that his colleagues and a supervisor subjected him to a hostile work environment that included slurs, caricatures and swastikas in his nine months working at the Fremont plant in 2015 and 2016.
A jury had awarded Diaz US$6.9 million of compensatory damages and US$130 million of punitive damages last October, but Orrick in April said those numbers were excessive.
Diaz's lawyers in their statement said Orrick's decision highlighted systemic bias that federal judges have against juries, which in turn violates the constitutional rights plaintiffs have to a trial by jury.
Meanwhile former Tesla employees have filed a lawsuit against the company alleging its decision to carry out a "mass layoff" violated federal law as the company did not provide advance notice of the job cuts.
The lawsuit was filed late on Sunday, US time, in Texas by two workers who said they were terminated from Tesla's gigafactory plant in Sparks, Nevada, in June.
According to the suit, more than 500 employees were terminated at the Nevada factory.
The workers allege the company failed to adhere to federal laws on mass layoffs that require a 60-day notification period under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, according to the lawsuit.
They are seeking class action status for all former Tesla employees throughout the United States who were laid off in May or June without advance notice.
"Tesla has simply notified the employees that their terminations would be effective immediately," the complaint said.
Musk, the world's richest person, said earlier this month he had a "super bad feeling" about the economy and that Tesla needed to cut staff by about 10 percent, according to an email seen by Reuters.
More than 20 people identifying themselves as Tesla employees said they were laid off, let go or had positions terminated this month, according to online postings and interviews with Reuters.
The action filed by John Lynch and Daxton Hartsfield, who were fired on June 10 and June 15 respectively, seeks pay and benefits for the 60-day notification period.
Tesla, which has not commented on numbers of layoffs, did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.
Musk, however, on Tuesday US time, called the lawsuit "trivial".
"Let's not read too much into a pre-emptive lawsuit that has no standing," he said at the Qatar Economic Forum organised by Bloomberg.
"It seems like anything related to Tesla gets a lot of clicks, whether it is trivial or significant. I would put that lawsuit you're referring to in the trivial category."
Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney representing the workers, told Reuters she finds it very concerning that the richest man in the world considers it "trivial" that his company is blatantly violating federal labour law to protect workers.
"While two months' pay certainly doesn't matter to him, it matters a lot to the employees who made his company what it is," she added.
She said Tesla is offering some employees only one week of severance, adding that she is preparing an emergency motion with a court to try to block Tesla from trying to get releases from employees in exchange for just one week of severance.
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court, Western District of Texas.