Musk’s auto firm, Tesla, sued by government for years of racism
Tesla's factory in Fremont, Calif. The automaker faces several racial discrimination lawsuits. | Noah Berger/AP

FREMONT, Calif.—The “N’ word, in variations, has been used many times daily at the Tesla facility here. Racial stereotyping is used against workers who are openly called “shiftless” “late” or “lazy.” Workers have been called “boy” or “monkey” or worse.

Graffiti has been scrawled all over the factory, including in elevators and bathrooms, that included nooses, swastikas, and references to the KKK. Workers have seen such graffiti scrawled onto the bodies of some of the electric vehicles they were building.

White supervisors not only did nothing about the racism but often actively joined in. And when workers complained to them, or to human resources, they were placed on worse work shifts, demoted, or even fired.

For at least the last 8-1/2 years, since June 2015, Black workers at the Tesla electric vehicles plant in Fremont, Calif., have been subjected to a racially oppressive work environment, the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission now says.

Since June 1, 2022, the EEOC, in line with its mandate to first solve the problem by “a conciliation agreement” to get the firm to change its ways, has tried to do so. Tesla, owned by the world’s richest person, Elon Musk ( net worth $180 billion), refused to sign a conciliation agreement acceptable to the government.

So on September 28, the EEOC marched into U.S. District Court for Northern California in Oakland and sued Tesla for violating Black workers’ civil rights.

“Tesla management knew or should have known” what’s been going on in its Fremont factory for 8-1/2 years, the suit said. Instead, the line bosses there were part of the problem.

The problem was a pervasive anti-Black racism that violated workers’ rights under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII bars discrimination based on race, sex, gender, religion, and other factors.

Tesla was “engaging and continuing to engage in discrimination against Black employees at the Fremont Factory by subjecting them to severe or pervasive racial harassment and by creating a hostile work environment because of their race (Black),” EEOC says. The workers’ own lawyer said some 240 Black workers have suffered:

Racial slurs were the norm

“Throughout the relevant period, racial slurs…collectively the N-Word, as well as racist epithets and race-based stereotyping permeated Tesla’s Fremont factory subjecting Black employees to racial hostility and offenses.

“Non-Black perpetrators of the racial misconduct have worked in a variety of positions at Tesla, including as managers, supervisors, line leads, production leads, production associates, and temporary workers. The racial misconduct was frequent, ongoing, inappropriate, unwelcome and occurred across all shifts, departments, and positions.”

For more than 8 years Elon Musk has ignored and, by his inaction, encouraged a more than 8 year-long reign of racist harassment at his Fremont, Calif. Tesla factory. Tesla now faces a federal lawsuit. | Ben Margot/AP

The N-word was used “almost every day” one Black worker said. Another “observed that “people were using the N-Word all the time, especially men, and particularly white men.” Another worker described her non-Black colleague repeatedly saying the N-Word “a lot.”

Non-Black managers directly addressed Black workers with the N-word. One worker called it “his white co-workers’ and supervisor’s preferred pronoun on the production line and said they rebuked him and other Black employees, saying “N—-, you are crazy” and similar phrases. Even what should have been innocuous interactions, such as “can you hand me that?” began with the epithet.

Such slurs were, “casual and normal,” as were others like “monkey,” workers said.

But Tesla management not only didn’t stop the harassment, epithets, insults, and more but went out of its way not to enforce any anti-harassment policy, which owner Elon Musk claims Tesla has on its books. Musk’s name is not mentioned in the lawsuit, though.

Musk’s company retaliated against Black workers with discipline ranging from “schedule changes, less desirable duties, reassignments, unjustified write-ups” all the way up through firings,” according to the government suit.

EEOC wants the judges to issue two permanent injunctions against Tesla, one banning the conduct itself and the other banning the retaliation. It also demands back pay and damages for the harmed Black workers.

It also wants Tesla to pay for damage to future income and job opportunities, “including but not limited to emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, humiliation,” all to be determined at a future jury trial.

Though Musk himself is not mentioned in the suit, he has a track record of resisting unionization at Tesla, which the Auto Workers for years have been trying to achieve. Union contracts, including those UAW negotiates, often include enforceable anti-discrimination clauses.

National Labor Relations Board records show one ruling for the union on another issue and another case—the main one surrounding UAW’s organizing drive—working its way through the courts for the last five years, thanks to management delays and appeals.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.