6 Tesla employees file new sexual harassment lawsuits
SAN FRANCISCO – A half-dozen women are suing Tesla, alleging that the electric vehicle company has fostered a culture of sexual harassment that leaves employees subjected to obscene comments and slurs, trial and error and discrimination.
In six separate lawsuits filed Tuesday, women who worked in factories or service centers said their male colleagues frequently referred to their bodies and clothing, and some women allege they were displaced from their workstations after having reported the behavior.
Many women in Tesla business have drawn a direct line between the abuse they suffered and the behavior of CEO Elon Musk.
Musk, who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year on Monday, is known for his outrageous and often obscene tweets: he frequently refers to number 69, jokingly named a fictitious university with the acronym TITS, and dubbed its “S3XY,” car line after the S, 3, X, and Y models.
“When they said the Model Y was dating and he was sexy… around that time it just got worse,” Eden Mederos, 31, said in an interview. “It was like, ‘Oh, this door sign is sexy, this pencil is sexy.'”
Mederos, who lives in Clark County, Wash., And worked at Tesla service centers before filing his complaint, said Musk’s comments appeared to directly influence the behavior of his colleagues. “He was making 69 or 420 jokes… which made the techs even worse. “
The six women who filed the lawsuits described a number of common experiences in the two Washington Post interviews and in legal files. Several alleged that they complained about the behavior, but that this has not changed; others said because their superiors had participated in the harassment they feared when speaking to HR. Some said they tried to protect themselves by wearing loose clothing, and a number of women said their experience in the workplace led to depression and anxiety, ultimately preventing them from advancing in their careers.
The complaints follow a similar lawsuit filed last month in which another factory worker, Jessica Barraza, alleged “widespread sexual harassment at Tesla” and “nightmarish conditions” at its factories. Tesla has yet to publicly respond to these allegations. Ashley Kosak, formerly an engineer at another company founded by Elon Musk, SpaceX, said in a recent essay that officials had not tracked multiple cases of sexual harassment, saying “misogyny was rampant” at the company.
The new lawsuits are part of a series of high-profile legal activities involving the Fremont, Calif., Plant and its workers, including $ 137 million awarded to former employee Owen Diaz in October, after a jury spoke out in favor of the elevator operator’s allegations of racism, abuse, discrimination and harassment. Tesla was also penalized for unfair labor practices at the factory.
“What we are addressing for each of the lawsuits is just a shocking model of the rampant harassment that exists at Tesla,” said attorney David A. Lowe, partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe LLP, who represents the women. “It’s ubiquitous in the workplace and now we know it’s not just the Fremont factory, but other places, including the sales centers. “
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company said it takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously in response to worker complaints and does not tolerate retaliation in such cases.
“Tesla was going to be my career”
Mederos started working at Tesla service centers in the Los Angeles area in 2016. She said simple acts, like eating a banana or using a spoon, caused men to make obscene comparisons and comments, allegations reiterated in his trial. Men hissed at her, called “shit” or encouraged her to show her skin, she said. His lawsuit alleges that Musk’s actions, such as his joking tweets, only encouraged the behavior.
“When Mr. Musk did this, everyone at the service center was reading the tweets,” the complaint read. “Managers and techs would conjure up tweets, laugh about them and make their own jokes, riffing on sexual themes.”
When Mederos complained about a manager who was flirting and trying to pass her an arm while they were driving a Tesla, she said in a legal complaint that she was being retaliated against and was unable to progress within the company, which ultimately led her to quit her job.
“When I started at Tesla, Tesla was going to be my career,” she told the Post. “I wanted to grow in the company – I was proud to work there when I got the job. When I left, I was just devastated.
For years, Silicon Valley has been criticized for the exclusivity of its “tech brother” culture, fueled in part by a low proportion of women in the workforce and in leadership. Tesla said in its 2020 Diversity Report that women make up just 21% of its U.S. workforce and 17% of executives.
“While women are historically under-represented in the tech and automotive industries, we recognize that we have work to do in this area,” the company said in its diversity report.
Several of the new allegations reflected the type of harassment alleged by Barraza in his trial last month. They focused on the factory, where Tesla assembles vehicles and employs around 10,000 workers. Several of the workers said they were starting their careers when they arrived at Tesla and came away horrified by the environment and the expectations it set for future workplaces.
Jessica Brooks, who works at the company’s Bay Area seating factory, claimed the harassment was so extreme she stacked boxes around her workstation to deter men from ogling her and whistle to him. In a legal complaint and interview with The Post, she says she bought flannel shirts from a thrift store to tie around her waist, in an attempt to hide her butt and prevent men from making obscene comments to her.
“I was so tired of the unwanted attention and men staring at me open-mouthed that I started putting up barriers around me just so I could get a little relief,” Brooks said. “It was something I felt was needed just to be able to do my job.”
Brooks alleges that she complained to human resources, but the behavior was not addressed. Instead, she said, she was moved to another part of the factory. She is currently on stress leave, she said.
Michala Curran started working at Tesla when she was 18, she said. “During her first few weeks on the job, her own supervisor told her that with her ‘big ass’ she should… be an exotic dancer, and tried slapping her on the back as she took off the bodysuit she was wearing. ‘She had to wear to paint Tesla’s cars,’ according to the lawsuit.
Curran, now 20, resigned after about two months.
“I was just afraid I wouldn’t know who to run to,” Curran told The Post. “Knowing that there are only men around me – not knowing if they might have the same mindset as the supervisor.”
Alisa Blickman, 33, told the Post her supervisor saw her stretch one morning and said, “I heard you don’t like to scream loud enough.” The same supervisor was touching and rubbing her lower back, she added. This experience was common in the Fremont factory where she worked, she says in costume; female body parts were identified using the numbering system and subjected to obscene comments.
“For me personally, because a supervisor was doing it to me, I didn’t feel comfortable going to HR,” she said in an interview. After pushing back on her supervisor’s advances, she was told she should be moved to an outdoor work area known as “tents,” which Blickman called “one of Tesla’s worst places.”
Samira Sheppard, who worked at the Fremont plant from late 2020 to early 2021, said she stayed with shame, anxiety and emotional distress from the work she started when she was 19.
Alize Brown called her experience at the Fremont factory a “living nightmare” in an interview. In her lawsuit, she says she started there at age 21 shortly after giving birth, and a coworker was commenting on her breastmilk-stained shirts, calling her a “cow” or saying “oh, I see. that you are dealing with today “. He also commented on her body, she said, calling her from behind a “wagon.” She told a supervisor, she said, who treated her complaint as a joke. And Brown bought a baggy jumpsuit to try and avoid male comments about her body.
Later, she said, the same supervisor told her that her contract would not be renewed.
“It was horrible,” said Brown, now 22, who lives in the Bay Area. “I actually came home and cried because, first of all, I just had a baby, then I have to be tortured for 12 hours. … It was really difficult for me. It’s still a bit difficult for me even after being let go by Tesla.
The new lawsuits were filed in California Superior Court in Alameda County.