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Tesla pushes back on ‘egregious’ $136.9 million judgment awarded to a former elevator operator who says he endured racist taunts and offensive graffiti

November 17, 2021, 6:43 PM UTC

Tesla has asked a judge to throw out a nearly $137 million judgment against the company from a recent racial discrimination case, calling the dollar amount awarded to the plaintiff “egregious.”

The automaker argued in a court filing on Tuesday that the award “simply cannot stand,” and has asked for a new trial, Bloomberg reported.  

“It is an award without precedent in U.S. anti-discrimination law. It dwarfs awards in similar—and even in the most egregious—cases. And it bears no relationship to the actual evidence at trial,” the Tesla wrote in its Nov. 16 court filing, according to Bloomberg

Last month, a jury in San Francisco sided with Owen Diaz, a Black man and a former Tesla elevator operator. Diaz, accused the company of ignoring its racially hostile work environment, saying he experienced racial taunts and saw offensive graffiti during his time working at the company’s auto plant in Fremont, California. He was awarded $6.9 million for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages, one of the largest sums given to an individual plaintiff in a racial discrimination case in U.S. history.

A person who was on the jury for the trial told Bloomberg that the decision to award Diaz $137 million was meant to nudge Tesla executives to “take the most basic preventative measures and precautions they neglected to take as a large corporation to protect any employee within their factory.”

In its court filing, Tesla claims it investigated and took action against the workers Diaz named, and that he needed no physical or medical treatment as a result of his experience working there, Insurance Journal reported. The company also wrote that while “the jury felt strongly that Tesla should have done more, this is at most a case of omission or negligence, not malice or intent.”  

An appeals court could potentially cut the $130 million in punitive damages in half, but the jury’s decision still sent a strong message about racial harassment, experts told Business Insider when the trial results first came out last month.

“We’re still not perfect. But we have come a long way from 5 years ago,” Tesla said in a statement after the original jury verdict. “We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns. Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable.”

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