An African-American man from Alabama, DeWitt Lambert, recently filed a lawsuit against his employer, Tesla. Lambert worked at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, reportedly one of the world’s most advanced automotive plants. The facility is 5.3 million square feet and sits on 370 acres of land. The factory was once home to both General Motors and Toyota, but was purchased by Tesla in 2010. Though the assembly line position may have been an amazing opportunity for Lambert, it ultimately became the source of unbearable racial harassment and discrimination.
Claims of racial harassment
DeWitt Lambert claimed that he was subjected to months of racial taunts and harassment from his coworkers starting when he was first hired to work at the Tesla plant in June 2015. He was routinely subjected to “racial slurs and lewd behavior” including sexual comments and repeated use of the “N-word.” His co-workers also hid his tools and recorded threatening videos on Lambert’s iPhone.
Lambert gave this statement regarding the treatment he endured at the Tesla plant:
When I began working at Tesla I was happier than I’ve ever been. 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.
Lambert also alleges in his lawsuit that Tesla failed to take appropriate action when he complained to management about the harassment. As a result of the lack of remedial action, his coworkers continued to harass him. According to the lawsuit, several of the alleged harassers were given promotions over Lambert.
Lambert repeatedly requested a transfer in an effort to evade the harassment but, even after he was eventually moved to a different section of the assembly line, the harassment continued. Ultimately, Lambert was placed on administrative leave while his harassment complaints were being investigated, but he did not receive full pay during that time.
Tesla’s purported remedial action
Despite the fact that Tesla eventually terminated several employees who were determined to be involved in the racial harassment, Lambert was also accused of participating in the harassment, allegedly using “the same racially insensitive language that he had complained about.” At this point, the company has moved the court to order arbitration in the matter, which is still pending.
How courts generally determine severe or pervasive harassment
The first thing to remember is that this determination is made on a case-by-case basis because every situation is different. The following factors are considered, though none of them alone is dispositive, and not all of them are required:
- the frequency of the unwelcome discriminatory conduct;
- the severity of the conduct;
- whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, or a
- mere offensive utterance;
- whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with work performance;
- the effect on the employee’s psychological well-being; and
- whether the harasser was a superior within the organization.
In order for there to be a case of workplace harassment, it “must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” However, “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.” Typically, for the conduct to be sufficiently pervasive to meet the criteria there must be more than just an isolated incident.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!