Oct 4 (Reuters) – A black former worker at a Tesla factory on Wednesday lost his bid for a third trial in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the electric car maker, after a federal judge in California rejected his claims that the company’s lawyers engaged in misconduct and pollution. His trial.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco, in a written order, upheld a $3.2 million verdict awarded by a jury to plaintiff Owen Diaz in April, denying his request for a new trial while also rejecting Tesla’s bid to cut the award in half.
The decision prevents another lengthy trial for the electric automaker, but it also draws new attention to the case, one of several alleging racial harassment at Tesla’s main assembly plant in Fremont, California. The latest was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week.
In upholding the ruling, Orrick said it was justified “in light of the endemic racism at the Tesla factory and Tesla’s repeated failure to correct it.”
Diaz, a former elevator operator, claimed he was subjected to daily racial slurs and graffiti, and that Tesla ignored his complaints.
His lawyers argued that Tesla’s legal team asked inappropriate questions, baselessly accused a witness of lying, and made misleading statements to the jury during a five-day trial earlier this year.
Orrick said any misconduct by the company’s attorneys did not permeate the entire trial so as to improperly influence and prejudice the jury.
Diaz was awarded $137 million by a different jury in 2021, but Orrick then ruled that the verdict was excessive. The judge ordered a second trial to determine damages after Diaz refused to pay a lesser sum of $15 million.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Diaz’s attorney, Lawrence Organ, said he is considering an appeal and expects Tesla to file an appeal seeking to reduce the award.
Although the bid for a new trial was lost, the $3.2 million award was significant for the racial discrimination case and demonstrated the seriousness of the harassment Diaz alleged, Organ said.
“Courts typically do not support large, multi-million dollar awards in these cases, so in that sense, this is clearly a victory for Diaz and for civil rights,” Organ said.
Orrick prevented both sides from presenting new evidence or testimony in the second trial, which took place in March.
Diaz claimed that Tesla’s lawyers violated that directive by questioning him and other witnesses about alleged altercations between Diaz and other workers, which were not brought up in the first trial. Diaz denies that these incidents occurred.
Tesla said it does not tolerate discrimination and takes worker complaints seriously.
The company has also denied wrongdoing in several other lawsuits alleging that employees at the Fremont plant and other factories and service centers faced racial or sexual harassment.
These cases include a proposed class action by black workers and a lawsuit filed by a California state agency alleging widespread racial discrimination at the Fremont factory, which Tesla claims is politically motivated.
Last week, Tesla was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which claims that since 2015, Black factory workers have been routinely subjected to racial slurs and graffiti and retaliated against for complaining of harassment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Tesla under a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination, which caps damages at $300,000 per worker. The state agency’s class action lawsuit and lawsuit allege violations of California law, which has no caps.
Diaz had sued Tesla under a different federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in contracts, including employment contracts, and which does not cap damages.
(Reporting by Danielle Wiesner in Albany, New York; Editing by Lisa Shoemaker, Alexia Garamfalvi, Diane Kraft and David Gregorio)
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