Almost a month after a female engineer filed a publicized lawsuit against electric car manufacturer Tesla for “ignoring her complaints of pervasive harassment,” another employee has come forward with similar litigation.
DeWitt Lambert worked as production associate at the company’s Fremont, California, factory plant. He is now accusing his employer of not doing enough to protect him from what he referred to as “a racially charged, sexually hostile and physically abusive environment.”
The 44-year-old claimed he faced sexual harassment and racial abuse at the hands of his coworkers, detailing incidents where his colleagues filled his back pockets with “gold nuts and screw," hid his tools, prodded him with a drill gun, taunted him with racial epithets and threatened him with sexual violence.
In 2015, his coworker allegedly stole his iPhone while on the assembly line and recorded a violent verbal rant against him.
“I’ve experienced discrimination worse than anything I experienced growing up in Alabama and I’m scared for my safety every evening when I leave the plant,” Lambert said in a press release. “This was my dream job and it turned into a nightmare.”
He said he informed his supervisor about the abuse, but said there was no proper response.
Meanwhile, Tesla claimed Lambert showed the video to the HR team in July 2016, despite it being recorded a year prior, but the department reportedly lost track of it due to staff changes. The company also investigated similar complaints in 2015 following an altercation between Lambert and his colleagues, but the inquiry proved inconclusive and they closed the case.
Tesla said the men accused of harassment claimed they were Lambert’s friends outside of work, and later and produced a screenshot of a Facebook message to prove Lambert also used racially charged language.
The car manufacturer’s solution was to transfer Lambert to another team, which does not seem to have worked out either.
“What a company needs to do when they are confronted with racism or sexism is they need to act immediately,” said Lambert’s attorney Larry Organ. “They need to send a message from the very top of the company that this conduct is not permitted and they need to say or do something to the employees engaged in the illegal conduct.”
The 11-count suit against Tesla, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, includes race harassment, race discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation, threats of violence in violation of the Ralph Act, violation of the Bane Act, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process and assault and battery.
“It’s clear that our investigation should have continued uninterrupted until all the facts were known,” stated a Tesla spokesperson. “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.”
Lambert also allegedly suffered a back injury because he was not properly rotated from his position on the assembly line — a violation of company policy.
Such incidents of racist and sexual harassment aren't unheard of in the tech industry, but the fact that companies as big as Tesla are not paying enough attention to the matter is just appalling.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Hannibal Hanschke