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Tesla sexual harassment lawsuits multiply as 6 more women sue Musk-led firm

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Tesla signs outside of a showroom and service center.
Enlarge / A Tesla showroom and service center on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Burbank, California.

Getty Images | Kent Nishimura

Six more women sued Tesla yesterday, alleging that the company failed to stop rampant sexual harassment at factory facilities in Fremont, California, and service centers in the Los Angeles area.

The lawsuits are similar to one filed last month by employee Jessica Barraza, who alleged that she and other women working in the carmaker’s Fremont factory have been subjected to “nightmarish conditions of rampant sexual harassment,” including offensive comments, propositions, and “frequent groping on the factory floor.” Barraza alleged that managers and human resources personnel failed to protect her even though she complained repeatedly.

The lawsuits filed yesterday “detail specific instances of harassment that each woman experienced, and the lack of action from Tesla when these claims were reported,” according to a press release from law firm Rudy Exelrod Zieff & Lowe, which represents Barazza and the six other women. “Those who complained were sometimes threatened into silence or faced undesirable transfers. The message was clear, there would be no consequences for abusers. The six women describe an environment in which it was normal for women to be catcalled, ogled, touched inappropriately, and propositioned.”

The lawsuits filed by factory workers say that “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.”

“Misconduct reflects an attitude at the top”

The behavior reflects the attitude of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, attorney David Lowe said in the press release. “Elon Musk tweeting a lewd comment about women’s bodies or a taunt toward employees who report misconduct reflects an attitude at the top that enables the pattern of pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation at the heart of these cases. Tesla has failed to take sexual harassment seriously, from the top of the company down,” Lowe said.

Lowe was referring to one Musk tweet in which he proposed creating a new university with the acronym “TITS” and another in which he joked about Tesla whistleblowers. The Musk-founded SpaceX is also facing sexual harassment allegations from former mission integration engineer Ashley Kosak, who wrote in an essay that misogyny is “rampant” at SpaceX and that harassers she complained about “have still not been held to account.”

We contacted Tesla about the six new lawsuits today and will update this article if we get a response.

The lawsuits in Alameda County Superior Court were filed by five women who work or worked at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factories and one who worked in Tesla “service centers throughout Southern California,” the law firm’s press release said. The employees were allegedly “subjected to constant sexual harassment at the hands of their colleagues and supervisors.”

In October, 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.

“Constant barrage of sexual comments”

The following are examples of the alleged sexual harassment as described in the press release, with links to copies of the complaints that Lowe provided to Ars:

Michaela Curran worked at Tesla as her first job out of high school. Her direct supervisor told her to “shake [her] ass” for him. He said with her “big butt” she should dance as a stripper. A colleague asked her to give him a “handjob” in the parking lot.

Alize Brown started working the night shift at Tesla when she was 21 years old and had a 3-month-old baby. Her colleague called her a “cow” who was “milking” and referred to her back-side as her “wagon.” She asked her supervisor, who would often look her body up and down, to speak to the harasser, but the supervisor treated it like a joke.

Jessica Brooks was harassed starting her first day of orientation. Her supervisor encouraged his male subordinates to check out the new girl. She was so besieged by unwanted male attention that she stacked up boxes around her workstation to block the view of her body. When she finally complained to H.R., they were already aware that she was stacking boxes to shield herself from harassment, but had done nothing. As a result of complaining, Ms. Brooks, not her harasser, was moved and had to learn a new type of work.

Alisa Blickman’s supervisor would rub his hand on her lower back at the start of each shift and whispered a sexual comment in her ear. When she responded negatively, he threatened to have her transferred.

Samira Sheppard was subjected to a constant barrage of sexual comments by male coworkers, and a supervisor told her colleagues that he could see her nipples through her shirt, prompting them to joke with her repeatedly about how she must be cold.

Eden Mederos faced near daily harassment from the technicians at her service center who would comment on her butt, using offensive words, like “ass,” “cake,” or “dump truck.” They also made sexist comments, saying, “A pretty girl shouldn’t be working in a service center.” They told her that she should flirt with customers to get a rich husband. When she reported a manager’s sexist and harassing behavior to HR, the manager interfered with her advancement at Tesla and HR did nothing.

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