It’s only February and it’s already more or less guaranteed that 2022 will be another year of Tesla dominating headlines for better and for worse. The brand has already been embroiled in numerous recalls, cynicism of its Full Self Driving is at a high, and sales of their Model 3 and Model Y continue to break records.
The latest development is the emergence of a fresh lawsuit against the company from former employee Kaylen Barker. The 25-year-old Barker started at the brand’s Lathrop factory in California last February, before being fired last October.
In the lawsuit, Barker claims her dismissal was retaliation for her lodging complaints against supervisors over claims of racism, homophobia, and also over her decision not to sign a document “falsely confessing to being insubordinate” after being pressured to sign it on a daily basis.
The lawsuit alleges that Barker was called the N-word, stupid, dumb, and a bitch, while also stating she was once hit with a hot grinding tool while out on the factory floor by a co-worker. The lawsuit says said co-worker was fired, before being “shockingly re-hired” just two weeks later “without any forewarning or explanation”.
“I feel like I have been tortured and sent back in time before African Americans had civil rights,” Barker said in a statement, adding that she was “violated physically, mentally, and emotionally” because she’s “an African American lesbian”.
The lawsuit follows the awarding of US$137million to former Tesla contractor Owen Diaz in October last year following similar complaints. Diaz claimed he was abused in 2015 and 2016. Tesla fought the verdict, with former head of human resources Valerie Workman stating in a blog written on Tesla’s website that the company questioned Diaz’s account of what happened.
Workman also claimed at the time of the lawsuit that Tesla was a changed company — something that Bernard Alexander, the attorney for both Diaz and now Barker — says simply isn’t true.
“Tesla claims that it’s changed but it’s not a different company,” he said in an interview. “Now we have an employee [who was discriminated against during the Diaz trial, and] Tesla basically did nothing to protect her.”
The fresh lawsuit also follows allegations of sexual assault at Tesla. In November last year, one woman filed a lawsuit stating that she had suffered sexual harassment in the workplace. By December, that number had grown to eight women — with complaints ranging from inappropriate physical contact, to sexual threats, to supervisors ignoring complaints.