Tesla Hit by Lawsuit Claiming California Factory is a ‘Hotbed for Racist Behavior’

Tesla has been hit with another lawsuit over the working environment at its Fremont, California assembly plant, this one alleging the factory is a “hotbed for racist behavior.”

The electric carmaker, which bills itself as a progressive force for change in the auto industry, has been hit by several previous lawsuits, including one alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination on the factory floor. The latest, brought as a class-action, claims African-American workers were targeted by racial slurs and that Tesla did not act in response to their complaints.

The automaker has also been accused of discrimination against gay and older workers and, following a recent mass firing, it is under review by the National Labor Relations Board, which has received complaints that some workers were dismissed because they were advocating a vote to unionize the suburban San Francisco plant.

The latest lawsuit, filed by former Tesla worker Marcus Vaughn, said he was frequently greeted with the “n-word” both by coworkers as well as Tesla supervisors. Vaughn claims the company failed to follow up on his complaints and then fired him in October for “not having a positive attitude.”

The lawsuit noted that Vaughn is one of more than 100 black workers at the Fremont factory and is seeking the court’s permission to represent the entire group.

“Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, its standard operating procedure at the Tesla factory is pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination,” stated Vaughn’s lawsuit, filed Monday in California’s Alameda County Superior Court.

Nearly one-third of Tesla’s workforce, about 10,000 employees in all, is based at the Fremont plant that houses three product lines: the Model S battery-sedan, the Model X battery-SUV, and the new Model 3.

CEO Elon Musk has laid out plans to boost annual production capacity of the Model 3 to 500,000, a target he had hoped to reach by late next year, but the factory has run into a series of snags since the car’s launch in July. Many analysts believe it will take significantly longer than the company says to build production rates, an issue complicated by limited cash resources.

Even as Tesla has struggled to solve its Model 3 problems it has also been snagged by the poor quality of the Model X. Consumer Reports magazine’s latest Automotive Reliability Survey named the sport-utility vehicle tied for last among scores of vehicles now on the market, along with the Cadillac Escalade.

It is unclear how much of a role tension within the factory is playing in terms of its quality and production problems, though some reports have indicated that workers face intense pressure. In October, Musk confirmed, about 700 Tesla employees were fired for what it claimed was poor performance. It was not stated how many worked at Fremont, though a sizable number were believed to have been stationed along the assembly line.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Paul A. Eisenstein