California Agency Denies Tesla’s Challenge to Race Bias Lawsuit

In the news once again, Tesla Inc. is claiming that California’s civil rights watchdog, the Department of Civil Rights (DCR), which is suing the company for race bias at an assembly plant, is rushing to sue businesses before it has conducted full investigations.

However, California's Office of Administrative Law (OAL)—called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing before changing its name in July—has denied Tesla's June petition to determine whether the DCR had adopted "underground regulations" that spurn the requirements it is supposed to meet before suing employers.

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The OAL did not give a reason for the denial and said Tesla can still pursue its claims in court. The OAL is responsible for reviewing state agency regulations and can recommend changes if it wishes.

In a pending lawsuit filed in February, the DCR accuses Tesla's Fremont, California, plant of being a racially segregated workplace in which Black employees were harassed as well as discriminated against in terms of discipline, job assignments, and pay.

A DCR spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while a representative for Tesla had no immediate comment. Tesla has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case.

With its petition, Tesla was attempting to rein in the DCR’s authority to pursue discrimination cases. Tesla wants to ensure that the DCR takes all of the required steps before suing, namely providing businesses with detailed explanations of alleged legal violations and making efforts to settle out of court—Tesla has argued that the DCR did neither in the pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit is not the first in which Tesla has been accused of tolerating sexual harassment or discrimination in its factories. Several cases are still pending in California courts, like that of Owen Diaz, a Black worker who alleged racial harassment and was awarded $137 million. However, that award was later reduced by a state judge to $15 million, leading Diaz to reject the award and opt for a new trial, which is now scheduled for March 2023.