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Former Tesla worker awarded $1 million over racism-related lawsuit

Tesla Inc has been ordered to pay about $1 million to a former employee who filed a legal complaint which alleged that he was called ‘Nigger’, a racial slur against African-Americans generally referred to as ‘N-word’, while working in the automaker’s factory in California.

Melvin Berry was hired by the automaker as a materials handler in 2015 but quit only 17 months later after the harassment, the court documents showed. Earlier this year, Berry hired San Francisco employment lawyer Jeannette Vaccaro to represent him in a private arbitration hearing with the automaker. Vaccaro argued that Tesla supervisors ignored Berry’s complaints when he informed them about being called the racial slur by co-workers.

Arbitrator Elaine Rushing said in her ruling that there was evidence that two Tesla supervisors used racial slurs against Berry and that those instances caused him emotional and psychological harm. Rushing noted that “case law is clear that one instance of a supervisor directing the N-word at a subordinate is sufficient to constitute serious harassment”.

Berry in 2017 filed two complaints against his supervisors at the automaker with California’s fair employment office.

In his complaint, Berry said that after he confronted the supervisors at the Fremont, California, factory for calling him the racial slur, he was forced to work longer hours and push a heavier cart of components. 

Although Berry was technically awarded $1 million, over $755,000 will go toward attorney and legal fees. He will receive approximately $266,000 in damages, court documents noted.

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