Cal. Civil Rights Agency Opposes Tesla’s Dismissal Bid in Workplace Discrimination Dispute

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or DFEH, hit back at Tesla Inc.’s bid to get the case booted from court last week. In its opposition to Tesla’s demurrer, the state agency said that the company “raise[d] meritless arguments with no legal support and only aims to delay further the government’s prosecution.”

The government enforcement action, filed in February, seeks to remedy “egregious and continuing” illegal workplace misconduct on part of Tesla. The CRD’s first amended complaint details how Tesla allegedly paid Black/African American workers less than non-Black counterparts, and forced them to waive rights as a continued condition of employment. The complaint states causes of action for harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

Prior to moving for dismissal, Tesla moved to pause proceedings for four months, arguing that the CRD failed to comply with applicable administrative rules, including “pre-suit requirements of fair notice, neutral investigations, and good-faith efforts to conciliate and mediate disputes that the FEHA imposes on [CRD] to promote vital public policies.” The stay was denied in its entirety.

Last week, the CRD responded to Tesla’ demurrer by noting that the electric vehicle maker failed to timely meet and confer prior to filing its demurrer as required by procedural law. Conversely, the CRD argued that the suit is not barred by certain “procedural limitations” as Tesla claims. 

The motion also said that Tesla’s contention that it lacked notice of the suit is “disingenuous” as Tesla has been on notice since June 2019 when the CRD’s director first notified the company it was investigating race relations, which was then followed by multiple rounds of investigative interrogatories, requests for documents, and subpoenas, the opposition said.

The CRD also backed up its claims as sufficiently pled. With regard to race discrimination, the agency said it “alleged that Tesla segregated Black and/or African American workers to undesirable work areas, assigning them to more physically demanding jobs, lower-level roles, or contract positions with lower pay, and affording them fewer opportunities than their non-Black counterparts.” Such specific examples are sufficient to satisfy the sufficiency threshold, the CRD argued. 

The plaintiff is represented by counsel with the CRD while Tesla is represented by Holland & Knight LLP and Reed Smith LLP.