Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tesla accused of “rampant sexual harassment” in new worker lawsuit

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A worker at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, is accusing the automaker of creating a hostile work environment where sexual harassment was “rampant.” As first reported by The Washington Post, Jessica Barraza, who was hired as a production associate in 2018, said in a lawsuit filed this week that she was subjected to constant harassment at the factory, including catcalling and inappropriate physical touching.

“Nearly every day for three years, my female coworkers and I were objectified, threatened, touched, and propositioned on the factory floor,” Barraza said in a statement emailed to The Verge. “I wanted to come to work, do my job, and support my family without having to endure constant sexual harassment. I felt degraded, humiliated and traumatized.”

The complaint filed in California Superior Court alleges that supervisors and managers at the Fremont plant not only were aware of a “pervasive culture of sexual harassment” that included sexist language and physical groping but participated in the ongoing abusive behavior. Barraza reported the issues to Tesla’s human resources department, which she says failed to protect her.

The Fremont plant is where Tesla makes its Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y electric vehicles. In October, the company was ordered to pay $137 million to a former contractor at the Fremont plant who alleged he was subjected to racial harassment as part of a hostile work environment.

According to Barraza’s complaint, while walking to and from her workstation over the course of a workday, she heard comments from men remarking on her “coke bottle” figure and making comments about her body, including “fat ass” and “onion booty.” Male coworkers would “brush up against Ms. Barraza’s back-side (including with their groins) or unnecessarily touch her under the pretext of working together in close quarters,” the complaint alleges.

In September, Barraza began having panic attacks. She is currently on a doctor-ordered medical leave from her job and is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

“Tesla’s factory floor more resembles a crude, archaic construction site or frat house than a cutting-edge company in the heart of the progressive San Francisco Bay Area,” the lawsuit states.

Lawsuits against Tesla are relatively rare in part because, as Barraza’s lawsuit notes, the company requires employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, meaning the workers waive their right to a jury or court trial.

But the Fremont factory has been identified in at least one other lawsuit as a “predator zone” of harassment. In 2017, now-former Tesla engineer AJ Vandermeyden sued Tesla for “unwanted and pervasive harassment,” alleging that she and other female employees were denied promotions and paid less than their male colleagues and faced retaliation when they reached out to human resources with their concerns. Vandermeyden was fired by Tesla a few months after taking her claims public.

Barraza’s lawsuit describes harassment, both verbal and physical, of other female employees as well. She told The Washington Post in an interview that the culture of harassment came straight from the top, citing a tweet by CEO Elon Musk joking about a school he wanted to start, which would have a crude acronym. Musk himself is not named in the lawsuit.

“That doesn’t set a good example for the factory — it almost gives it like an … ‘he’s tweeting about it, it has to be okay,’ ” Barraza told the Post. “It’s not fair to myself, to my family, to other women who are working there.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge on Friday. The company dissolved its press office and rarely responds to media requests. Barraza is seeking compensation, including lost back pay, and an injunction to end harassment at the Fremont plant. Her attorneys also plan to file a claim under the California Private Attorneys General Act on behalf of Barraza and other women who allege they were harassed at the factory.

“Tesla is responsible for the systemic sexual harassment occurring in its factory,” Barraza’s attorney, David A. Lowe, said in a statement to The Verge. “We are bringing this case to put a stop to the harassment against Ms. Barraza and her colleagues.”





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