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February 3, 2022

A former Tesla employee has filed a lawsuit accusing the carmaker of multiple workplace violations at its Central Valley mega factory, and that the company was “…Unaware of the festering, unchecked racism present in its factories.”

The complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, included allegations of racial and sexual orientation discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination, making it the third such lawsuit in four months.

According to the lawsuit, trouble began after Kaylen Barker, 25, was promoted to a supervisor position after two months on the job inspecting brakes at the facility in Lathrop, east of Tracy.

“I shouldn’t have to feel like a victim inside the workplace,” said Barker in a statement.

The 34-page lawsuit claims “Joanne”, a white coworker, started making derogatory comments to Barker, who is “African American and gay.”

According to the complaint, the coworker said, “Tesla should not have promoted a black girl over her.”

The complaint also claims that “Joanne stated that her “parents owned slaves and no Caucasian is supposed to work under a black person.””

She is also accused of “using the N-word under her breath.”

“The plaintiff did what she could to ignore it. She spoke to a supervisor and said this was inappropriate. And nothing was done,” said J. Bernard Alexander, III, Barker’s attorney.

According to the complaint, the situation escalated dramatically in September, five months after Barker’s promotion to supervisor. Barker told Joanne it was unsafe to stand so close to a piece of equipment.

“Joanne responded by calling Plaintiff a ‘Stupid, dumb, N—-r , b—-‘ and threw a hot tool at Plaintiff, hitting her right thigh and creating a bruise,” according to the lawsuit.

“As we allege in the complaint, (Barker) wanted to file a police report. But Tesla, her supervisor, told her not to. That Tesla would take care of it, and that didn’t happen,” said Supreeta Sampath, Barker’s attorney.

Tesla eventually fired Joanne, but two weeks later, “without any forewarning or explanation to the Plaintiff, Tesla shockingly rehired Joanne…With Joanne’s return to work at Tesla, Plaintiff felt extremely unsafe at work.”

Barker complained to the company’s HR department, but supervisors repeatedly demanded she sign a document admitting to insubordination, according to the suit.

“They were more interested in having her sign a statement saying that she had prompted the harassment that was initiated against her,” said Alexander.

Barker’s case is the third Tesla lawsuit in four months. In October, a jury awarded nearly $137 million dollars to a Tesla contractor who endured “daily racist epithets.”

In November, a production assistant at the Fremont plant filed a lawsuit alleging daily sexual harassment.

“If Elon Musk is not the one who can start to put the wheels of change in motion, I ask the question, ‘Who?'” said San Jose State Professor Shaun Fletcher, an expert on diversity and inclusion issues.

“Executives, especially at extremely profitable organizations, they care to the extent that they have to, until it starts to hit them in a quantifiable way, where it impacts closer to the bottom line. We rarely see, beyond a few outside examples, where leaders are proactive in order to actually make sure that they are cultivating and facilitating an environment that is going to be welcoming and inclusive of all,” said Fletcher.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment as of Wednesday. The lawsuit did not specify monetary damages.

“This lawsuit is another indication, as are other matters out there, that Tesla has not corrected its workplace and has a lot of work to do,” said Alexander. “You see the wonderful things that Tesla has been able to do in terms of its cars. If Elon Musk wanted to fix it and turned his attention to fixing it, it would be fixed.”

“We’ve been doing this work for a long time. And on its face, these facts and the conduct is shocking. And the responses, equally so. And we really want to bring dignity and respect for our client, and all the many black workers at Tesla,” said Sampath.

“I feel like I have been tortured and sent back in time before African Americans had civil rights,” said Barker in a statement. “I am not a third-class citizen simply because I’m a black lesbian woman.”