An African-American worker who says he landed his dream job when he started working for Tesla has filed an employment lawsuit against the company alleging racial discrimination and harassment. According to a news report in the San Jose Mercury News, DeWitt Lambert landed the job at the California Tesla factory in 2015. But, in his lawsuit, Lambert says working on the Tesla assembly line for two years turned his dream into a nightmare.
He claims in the lawsuit that he endured months of harassment including physical, sexual and racial taunts that included frequent use of the N-word. One day, the lawsuit alleges, a co-worker stole his phone and recorded a minute-long video rant filled with racial epithets and violent threats. Despite his complaint to supervisors, Lambert said, the company did not take adequate action to put an end to the harassment.
Allegations of Continued Harassment
Tesla said they found the video “disappointing and contrary to our values” and that several employees have been fired as a result of that incident. However, the company told the Mercury News in a detailed letter that an internal investigation shed light on a more complicated dispute between co-workers who got together outside of work and regularly used off-color language. Tesla said the dispute originated from a prior comment Lambert made to a co-worker and that Lambert also used the N-word twice to refer to co-workers in a Facebook message.
Lambert, 44, claims younger colleagues in their 20s hazed him putting stickers on his back, hiding his tools and stealing his phone to take photos and videos without his permission. He said they routinely slung racial epithets at him. Co-workers also launched personal attacks on him and made lewd remarks about sex, the lawsuit alleges. Lambert said he reported these incidents to his supervisors and even tried to transfer out of the department several times. Eventually, he was transferred to another section of the production line, but the harassment continued on his new shift.
Race Discrimination and Harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), race discrimination involves treating am employee or a job applicant unfavorably because he or she belongs to a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race such as skin color, hair or facial features. Color discrimination involved treating someone unfavorably in the workplace because of the color of his or her skin. Discrimination could occur also when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, be it hiring, firing, layoffs, job assignments, training, promotions, fringe benefits, etc.
It is illegal to harass a person at work because of his or her race or color. Harassment can include racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color or the display of racially offensive symbols. Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing or offhand comments (in other words, isolated incidents), harassment is illegal when it so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision such as a person being fired or demoted.
A harasser could be someone who is the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee such as a client or customer. An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone regardless of race or color can be against the law if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular race or religion. For example, a “no-beard policy” that applies to all workers may still be illegal if it’s not job-related and has a negative impact on the employment of Muslim or Sikh men.
Steps You Can Take
Protecting yourself from discrimination in the workplace can be rather stressful. It is not always easy to determine the right way to respond to workplace discrimination. However, by responding in the right manner you can take control of a bad situation and correct the problem. You can also make sure that your legal rights are protected. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Document the harassment. A number of those who are harassed or discriminated against decide to keep quiet hoping it will go away. Regardless of whether an employee decides to take immediate action or wait to see if the problem continues, the employee should begin documenting the discriminatory or harassing acts right away. When documenting the acts, you should be sure to make a note of what happened and who did it. It is also important that you write down the date and time of the event and whether any witnessed were present.
- Follow your employer’s policy for internal reporting. Your employer may have a process in place to replace such incidents. In general, a good place to start is your supervisor. If your supervisor is the source of the problem, you should report the incident to that person’s manager or supervisor. You may also want to report the incident to your company’s Human Resources Department. You should request that your employer investigate the matter and make a written report of the investigation so that there is a record. It is also important that you follow up as the investigation progresses.
- If you don’t get an appropriate or satisfactory response from your employer, you should report the discrimination and/or harassment for one or more federal and state government agencies that oversee such matters. You should report it to the EEOC and the California Department of Labor.
- Contact an experienced employment lawyer in Orange County, California who specializes in these types of cases and has handled them successfully. You may be able to seek compensation for damages including but not limited to lost wages and pain and suffering. You should not have to endure mistreatment at the workplace. Learn about your rights and exercise them so these types of behaviors can be corrected. Call us at (949) 724-9200 for more information about your legal rights and options.