Tesla was ordered to pay more than $1 million to a Black former employee who claimed two supervisors at the company’s Fremont factory in northern California used the N-word to him.
The case was settled through arbitration rather than in court, so it was mostly kept private. However, available filings show that Melvin Berry, a materials handler who began working at Tesla in 2015, claimed he was forced to work longer hours and push a heavier cart after confronting a supervisor about the slur.
At the time, Tesla denied the allegations. According to the arbitrator’s May 12 ruling, Tesla stated that there was no written evidence that Berry had complained to his coworkers or human resources about his supervisors using the N-word. Berry left the job voluntarily, according to the company, and his economic losses were limited to $148 at most, according to the ruling.
The arbitrator in the case, Elaine Rushing, stated that it was a “difficult” case to rule on, but that she believed both of Berry’s supervisors used the slur. She claimed that their actions changed his working conditions and “created a racially hostile work environment.”
She held Tesla liable for harassment because it came from Berry’s supervisors and the company did nothing to stop it. “He was ignored every time he reported discriminatory behavior,” she wrote.
According to the filings, she also discovered that “racial symbols such as swastikas were not always promptly removed” from the workplace.
Tesla was told to pay $1.02 million in damages. The majority of this went toward Berry’s attorneys’ fees and legal costs, but Tesla was also ordered to pay Berry $266,278.50 in damages, including $100,000 for emotional distress.
Berry claimed that as a result of his supervisors’ behavior, he suffered from sleepless nights, migraines, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety, prompting him to seek help from a psychologist, according to the ruling. Berry also stated in the ruling that he “became quiet and cried a lot” and “questioned his sanity.”
He quit his job only 17 months after starting.
In its defense, Tesla claimed that Berry agreed his emotional suffering was of the “garden variety,” implying that an ordinary person would suffer similarly in a similar situation. Tesla claimed that his claims for emotional distress damages were barred by workers compensation exclusivity.
Berry’s lawyer, Lawrence Organ, told reporters that Berry would not pursue any further legal action.
Berry, who lives in Antioch, California, has stated that he intends to establish a media company specializing in motion design and animation. Looking back on the contract he signed with Tesla that included an arbitration clause, he says he wouldn’t have signed it if he knew it meant giving up the right to sue in court.
In response to a lawsuit alleging racism at its Fremont factory, Tesla stated in a November 2017 blog post that it is “absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind.” Other Black employees have said they faced racial slurs while working at Tesla, including one employee at the company’s Fremont factory who claimed he was called the N-word. This was one of 103 sworn testimonies obtained by Protocol as part of a 2017 lawsuit filed by former Black Tesla employees at the Fremont plant.