Contract worker for Tesla experiences persistent racial harassment. $137M.


African-American male, a contract worker, says Tesla failed to stop persistent racial harassment at its Fremont plant.

The Case

  • Case Name: Owen Diaz v. Tesla, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: N. Dist. CA / 3:17-cv-06748-WHO
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, October 04, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, October 16, 2017
  • Type of Case: Discrimination, Racial, Harassment
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. William H. Orrick
  • Plaintiffs:
    Owen Diaz, 53
  • Defendants:
    Tesla, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $136,900,000
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $136.9 million against Tesla.

    Staffing company defendants settled out approximately a year prior to trial.

  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past emotional distress: $4,500,000

    Future emotional distress damages: $2,400,000

  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 1/2 hours
  • Jury Polls: Unanimous

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    California Civil Rights Law Group by Larry Organ and Cimone Nunley, San Anselmo.

    Alexander Morrison + Fehr by J. Bernard Alexander, III, Los Angeles.


  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Sheppard Mullin by Tracey Kennedy, Patricia Jeng and Susan Haines, San Francisco.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Anthony Reading, psychology.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):


  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Amy Oppenheimer, HR practices.

    Charles Mahla, economics.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):


Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff worked as a contract employee at the Tesla automobile factory in Fremont, from June 3, 2015 to March 2016. He worked as an elevator operator moving products and materials between the floors of the Tesla Factory. Plaintiff was brought into the factory via a staffing company named Citistaff. Plaintiff was promoted to an elevator lead on August 17, 2015. He resigned his employment with Tesla in approximately mid-March 2016.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff claims that he was subjected to severe and pervasive racial harassment based on his race. He was called the N-word over sixty times by supervisors and he was told to "go back to Africa." One supervisor left a picaninny drawing on some recycled cardboard near the elevators where plaintiff would see it. Plaintiff also saw racist graffiti in the bathrooms. Plaintiff also witnessed his son being called the N-word by his son's supervisor.

    Plaintiff first complained about the N-word to his lead just under two months after starting at Tesla. Several employees corroborated the conduct. No remedial action was taken to ensure that other employees did not engage in similar conduct. In fact, one of his supervisors claimed that it was not corroborated in an email even though at trial he admitted it was. In addition to plaintiff, three other employees/supervisors heard the N-word on a daily basis as they walked around the factory. They did not take remedial action. Plaintiff contends that he was harassed from shortly after starting at Tesla to shortly before leaving.

    Plaintiff, a contract employee, brought a racial harassment complaint against what he contended what his joint employer, Tesla, under 42 USC section 1981.

    Plaintiff argued that Tesla took zero responsibility for the conduct that was occurring in its factory and that it should be held accountable for widespread racist conduct there. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Tesla claimed that it was not responsible for any harassment toward plaintiff because he was not Tesla's employee. Tesla also claimed that any time harassment was brought to its attention, it handled it with appropriate remedial action.

    Tesla argued that it was not responsible for the conduct directed at plaintiff if it happened.

    Tesla also claimed that plaintiff never submitted a written complaint about the N-word, and that he was obviously not bothered by the conduct he was subjected to because he encouraged his son to apply for and get a job at the Tesla Fremont factory.

    Finally, Tesla claimed that the N-word was not used by the alleged harassers and that it was not widely used at the factory.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Emotional distress.