Tesla Fires Back at Calif. Agency in Pursuit of Stay in Racial Discrimination Suit

On Wednesday, Tesla Inc. told an Alameda County, Calif. judge to pause the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s (DFEH) case, pressing that the state agency did not follow pre-filing requirements before accusing Tesla of discrimination against Black workers. The electric vehicle maker’s reply brief rebukes the agency’s opposition and says it, not Tesla, seeks to play by its own rules.

The DFEH filed suit against Tesla in February, after reportedly receiving a multitude of complaints from workers in Tesla’s Fremont, California assembly factory. The complaint pointed to various instances of racism including slurs etched in bathroom walls, verbal abuse, and Black workers’ relegation to the lowest-ranking jobs. 

The DFEH stated Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) claims for racial employment discrimination and sought remedial compensation on behalf of impacted workers. In a blog post published before the complaint was filed, Tesla said the allegations were misguided.

In April, the defendant moved to stay the case for 120 days, alleging that the DFEH failed to comply with the legislated rules, including the “pre-suit requirements of fair notice, neutral investigations, and good-faith efforts to conciliate and mediate disputes that the FEHA imposes on DFEH to promote vital public policies.” The plaintiff opposed the motion.  

Now, Tesla asserts that DFEH’s opposition only seeks to “deflect attention away from its own misconduct,” doubling down on allegations that the agency neglected to properly notify Tesla and conduct a full investigation of certain claims. In addition, Tesla says the agency never gave it a chance to conciliate in violation of state procedural law.  

The reply asserts that in this and other cases the agency “has made a mockery of these statutory rules, treating them as administrative piffles to be afforded nothing more than lip service.” Relatedly, Tesla reiterates that it soon intends to file a petition with the California Office of Administrative Law over the DFEH’s alleged missteps. 

In that petition, Tesla will argue that the agency’s procedural misconduct “cannot be dismissed as the isolated abuse of a single employer on a ‘one-off’ basis.” Instead, Tesla theorizes that the DFEH’s rush to sue Tesla before satisfying the pre-suit requirements of the FEHA was spurred by an “interagency tug-of-war” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a gender discrimination case against Activision Blizzard.

Tesla is represented by Holland & Knight LLP and Reed Smith LLP.