"Tesla fails in bid to push racism lawsuit into arbitration"
East Bay Times, June 4, 2018
By Ethan Baron
A judge shot down Tesla’s attempt to force into arbitration a class-action lawsuit claiming the company allowed “severe and pervasive” racism against black workers at its Fremont factory.
The lawsuit was filed in November by former employee Marcus Vaughn. It alleged that the Palo Alto electric car maker led by CEO Elon Musk “created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment for African-American employees” where two variations of the n-word were routinely used.
The firm had sought to move the case from court into private dispute resolution, in accordance with an arbitration agreement it argued applied to Vaughn.
Vaughn filed the suit on behalf of himself and all other black workers on the Fremont factory floor from Nov. 9, 2016 to the present.
Now, a state Superior Court judge has ruled that because Vaughn never signed a letter offering him a permanent job and containing an arbitration agreement, he’s not bound by any such agreement.
“Generally speaking, one must be a party to an arbitration agreement to be bound by it or invoke it,” Judge Robert McGuiness of Alameda County Superior Court said in his ruling Friday.
Tesla said the judge’s ruling had “no bearing on the merits of the case,” and that the company plans to appeal.
Vaughn’s lawyer Bryan Schwartz suggested that Tesla’s push for arbitration arose from a desire to keep the public from knowing about the Fremont factory’s “racist underbelly.”
“Tesla is desperately trying to avoid the truth coming out in this case, so I am glad the court saw through this unsigned arbitration agreement scam,” Schwartz said in a statement.
Tesla has said in a past blog post that all employees are put through an anti-discrimination course and that it has created a dedicated team to investigate workplace concerns.
“Tesla is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind,” the company said.
“When we hear complaints, we take them very seriously, investigate thoroughly and, if proven to be true, take immediate action.”
With more than 10,000 workers at the Fremont plant, “it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct,” Tesla said.
“But we will do our best to make it as close to zero as possible.”