A Tesla employee filed a lawsuit Monday saying he was physically threatened and subjected to racial harassment and discrimination on the job. The company responded Tuesday by saying nothing “inappropriate occurred.”
DeWitt Lambert, who is black, accused Tesla of failing to take action after he was “subjected to racial slurs and lewd behavior” by colleagues while he worked on the assembly line at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif. “They would call him the N-word throughout his workday, talk about the size of his penis and even placed a drill gun into his buttocks,” the California Civil Rights Law Group, which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement Monday.
Lambert said he spoke with managers at Tesla to address the harassment and found that the “abuse intensified.”
Tesla defended itself against the accusations on Tuesday and said Lambert’s account conflicted with those of other co-workers, based on employee interviews. A company spokesperson said “a video recently came to light showing behavior by a group of employees at our factory acting in a way that we found disappointing and contrary to our values.” But, the spokesman added, “in the end, there was no objective evidence that anything inappropriate occurred toward Dewitt. As a result, our HR team coached this group of employees on the importance of behaving professionally and the investigation was closed.”
Lambert, a 44-year-old father of five, said working at Tesla had been his “dream job and it turned into a nightmare.”
“When I began working at Tesla I was happier than I’ve ever been,” Lambert said in a statement released by the California Civil Rights Law Group. “Now, I’ve experienced discrimination worse than anything I experienced growing up in Alabama and I’m scared for my safety every evening when I leave the plant. I asked for help from Tesla’s management and it never came.”
Tesla accused Dewitt of making violent threats against co-workers and violating company policy by posting proprietary photos of Tesla equipment on social media.
“We will continue to take action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work,” Tesla said in its statement. “However, it’s also clear that Dewitt’s version of events is not supported by the facts.”
An attorney for Lambert disputed Tesla’s allegations and said he never threatened violence.
“The complaint makes clear that Mr. Lambert complained well before any of the allegations by Tesla started,” said Larry Organ, an attorney at California Civil Rights Law Group. “Moreover, there’s no excuse for [Tesla] not doing an adequate investigation.”