Elon Musk's Tesla factory in California sued (again) as alleged racist work environment

An area of the Tesla plant staffed primarily by Black workers allegedly referred to as “porch monkey station”

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published February 10, 2022 6:30PM (EST)

Elon Musk | Tesla Factory (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk | Tesla Factory (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing Tesla, Elon Musk's pioneering electric-vehicle manufacturer, after receiving hundreds of complaints from workers indicating that Tesla's Fremont factory is a segregated and racially hostile work environment.

The lawsuit filed by DFEH against Tesla on Wednesday claims that Black workers at the Fremont, California, factory were the targets of racist graffiti and repeated verbal taunting, and were further discriminated against in ways that affected their job assignments and salaries. Defendants stepping forward in the case claim to have heard upper-level management at the California factory refer to workers as "monkey toes" and "hood rat," according to coverage by The Verge, and there are further claims that an area within the factory primarily manned by Black workers was referred to as the "porch monkey station."

Defendants in the suit also claim that they encountered racist graffiti in break rooms, restrooms and work areas that no one in upper management addressed in any way anything about. Among the graffiti described in detail were such messages as "all monkeys work outside."

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Just before the suit was filed on Wednesday, Tesla posted a blog post to its official site called "The DFEH's Misguided Lawsuit," which strongly denies the claims against the company. The timing of that post suggests that management was aware that a wave of bad publicity was likely to follow. The post states that "Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints," and goes on to list ways Tesla has purportedly benefited the state of California.

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"The Fremont factory has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians. No company has done more for sustainability or the creation of clean energy jobs than Tesla," the post asserts. It ends by asking the court to pause the case to "ensure that facts and evidence will be heard."

Last year, a jury in a federal case awarded almost $137 million to a Black former employee who suffered racial abuse at the same factory, where most Tesla vehicles are manufactured. Musk, the Tesla founder, purchased the former GM/Toyota plant in Fremont for $42 million in 2010.

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By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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