Tesla Motors was sued yesterday by an employee who alleges that she and other women working in the carmaker’s Fremont factory have been subjected to “nightmarish conditions of rampant sexual harassment.”
Jessica Barraza’s lawsuit against Tesla says that she works nights and that as “she walks to and from her work station at the beginning and end of shifts or breaks, men make comments like ‘She’s got fat titties,’ ‘She’s got cakes!,’ ‘That bitch hella thick,’ ‘Go ahead, sexy,’ ‘Damn, girl!,’ ‘She has a fat ass,’ ‘Oh, she looks like a coke bottle,’ and ‘Girl has an onion booty.'” Barraza began working on the Tesla factory floor as a production associate in October 2018 and had “hopes of spending her career at Tesla and rising through the ranks,” but she is now on medical leave after suffering panic attacks triggered by the harassment, the lawsuit says.
“Multiple times a week, male co-workers brush up against Ms. Barraza’s back-side (including with their groins) or unnecessarily touch her under the pretext of working together in close quarters,” the lawsuit alleges. Barraza says that managers and human resources personnel both failed to protect her even though she complained repeatedly.
“Ms. Barraza, who started her career at Tesla as a strong, confident, ambitious woman, is currently on a medical leave until the end of the year, ordered by her doctor, in treatment with a therapist who has diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, and on anxiety medication,” the complaint says.
Like a “construction site or frat house”
Barraza’s lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court in California. This is how the complaint’s first paragraph summarizes the alleged harassment:
Although Tesla publicly claims that it fosters a safe and respectful environment for its workers, the truth is that for years Tesla has subjected women working in its Fremont plant to nightmarish conditions of rampant sexual harassment. Tesla’s factory floor more resembles a crude, archaic construction site or frat house than a cutting-edge company in the heart of the progressive San Francisco Bay Area. The pervasive culture of sexual harassment, which includes a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior, including frequent groping on the factory floor, is known to supervisors and managers and often perpetrated by them. Jessica Barraza complained repeatedly to managers and to HR, who failed to protect her. She was forced to endure this atrocious and illegal behavior for years until she could not take it anymore. Ms. Barraza is bringing this case to put a stop to the systemic sexual harassment that plagues her and the other women at Tesla.
The complaint alleges sexual harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, failure to prevent sexual harassment, and retaliation. Barraza says that Tesla retaliated against her after she complained about sexual harassment and that she was “denied certain privileges and benefits that were afforded to women who did not object to supervisors’ sexual advances and flirtations.”
Barraza’s complaint asks for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctions preventing Tesla from continuing the behavior described in the lawsuit—including a requirement that Tesla “adopt training, monitoring, reporting, and enforcement policies reasonably calculated to immediately end such unlawful practices.”
Suit challenges Tesla’s mandatory arbitration
Barraza signed a mandatory arbitration agreement as a condition of employment when she took the job at Tesla, but her lawsuit alleges that the arbitration provision “is procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, therefore, unenforceable.” Tesla uses mandatory arbitration to “shield itself from public accountability,” Barraza alleges.
Barraza’s lawsuit against Tesla says she also filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the company for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and she obtained a right-to-sue notice that allowed her to file the lawsuit.
We contacted Tesla about Barraza’s lawsuit today and will update this article if we get a response.
Barraza’s lawsuit was filed about six weeks after a federal jury awarded $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black worker who alleged that Tesla failed to take reasonable steps to prevent racist abuse at the Fremont factory. “It shines a light on what’s going on inside of Tesla’s factory,” Diaz reportedly said after the verdict. “Elon Musk, you’ve been put on notice. Clean that factory up.”
After the Diaz verdict, Tesla issued a statement stressing that the trial covered events from 2015 to 2016. Tesla has “come a long way from five years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns,” the company said. But Barraza’s lawsuit alleges that sexual harassment at the Tesla factory continued until at least October 2021, shortly before she went on leave.
Tesla says that over 10,000 employees work at its Fremont factory.
Barraza has witnesses
Barraza’s complaint demands a jury trial and says there are witnesses who will testify about the “rampant” harassment at Tesla:
Ms. Barraza saw other women experiencing the same environment, and witnesses will testify that they too experienced or observed the rampant sexual harassment at Tesla. Ms. Barraza brings this action to hold Tesla accountable for the harm it has caused her and other women and to seek injunctive relief in the form of policy changes at Tesla that will put a stop to the unsafe, hostile work environment harming women at its Fremont factory.
Barraza’s lawsuit describes her as a 38-year-old mother of two. The sexist comments she gets while walking to and from her workstation “come not only from co-workers, but from supervisory ‘Leads,’ and within earshot of supervisors, and sometimes from supervisors themselves,” the lawsuit says. “One of her supervisors referred to her and other female colleagues as ‘bitches.’ That same supervisor re-assigned her to another area where his friend had a ‘crush’ on her, as if she were a ‘prize’ to be doled out. A Lead propositioned her by text message, and another supervisor flirted with her and told her how he controlled her career prospects.”