Elon Musk-led Tesla drives into racial lawsuit crosshairs
Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicles maker, has landed in a race row, yet again.
A black gay woman has filed a case against Tesla, accusing the Elon Musk-led carmaker of “festering” racism by ignoring the ‘racial and homophobic insults and physical harm she suffered while working at one of the company’s factories.
According to a report published by Bloomberg, Kaylen Barker, a former contract worker whose job was to inspect brake parts, has accused the Texas-headquartered Tesla of turning a blind eye to discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender at its factories.
In her suit filed in a court in California, Barker said she was struck by a white colleague with a hot grinding tool. The co-worker also called her ‘stupid, dumb’, and used the n-word for her. The abusive co-worker was sacked when Barker took up the issue with the company’s human resources department but was hired back later, much to her dismay and shock.
In October last year, a federal court in San Francisco ordered Tesla to pay a record $137 million in damages to Owen Diaz, a black former elevator operator, for ignoring racist treatment meted out to him.
New-age companies such as Tesla have been making waves through their disruptive innovations and their outsized impact. Similarly, Big Tech firms draw their influence from their sprawling presence in our lives – and it’s hard to imagine businesses without their enabling and amplificatory effect. But they have also come under greater scrutiny for all the wrong reasons, most notably for their seeming inability to build a more inclusive culture where employees from diverse backgrounds can feel safe and thrive. It would seem that their policies and mechanisms to curb discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace have failed to keep pace with the vertiginous growth they have had in terms of market value, headcount, and market share.
Timnit Gebru, a celebrated computer scientist of colour, in December 2020 asserted that Google and Big Tech, in general, are ‘institutionally racist’, after she was fired by the Sundar Pichai-led search engine giant. This may seem a bit too harsh, even exaggerated, but there is no denying that organisations need to bolster their internal mechanisms, build a friendlier work environment and evolve a culture of empathy that inspires confidence among the victims of discrimination and abuse at the workplace.
Microsoft last month hired a law firm to review its policies and practices around the handling of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Although this came more than a decade after several hundred of its employees launched a class-action lawsuit over workplace sexual harassment, it’s a welcome move.