Owen Diaz and his son Demetric in Oakland, California, in 2018. — Bloomberg
SAN FRANCISCO: A federal jury here on Monday has ordered Tesla Inc to pay more than US$130 million (RM543mil) in damages to a Black former worker, finding he was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The jury determined that the company failed to take reasonable steps to prevent Owen Diaz, a contract worker who was employed as an elevator operator at Tesla's Fremont factory in 2015 and 2016, from being racially harassed, the newspaper said.
In a message to employees that Tesla posted on its website, the automaker noted the trial concerned racial slurs heard on the factory floor and racist graffiti in the bathrooms.
It also said the three times that Diaz complained about harassment, Tesla stepped in and made sure action was taken by staffing agencies.
The jury awarded Diaz US$6.9 million in compensatory damages and US$130 million in punitive damages, according to the newspaper.
"While we strongly believe that these facts don't justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognise that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect," Tesla said.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters query asking if it would be appealing the verdict. Diaz's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before the trial began, presiding judge William Orrick rejected efforts by Tesla to exclude one juror from the jury, saying he believed the attempt was based on race and "purposefully discriminatory."
Tesla said in its blog post that since Diaz worked at the Fremont factory it had made changes including the establishment of teams dedicated to investigating employee complaints and to ensuring employees had equal opportunities at the company.
Last year, the electric carmaker disclosed in its first US diversity report that Black employees make up just 4% of Tesla's American leadership roles and 10% of its total workforce in the country.