Six women workers sue Tesla over sexual harassment allegations

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Six women on Tuesday (Dec 14) sued Tesla, alleging a culture of sexual harassment at the electric carmaker’s California factory and other facilities that included unwanted touching, catcalls and retaliation for those who complained.

The harassment suits – filed almost a month after two others – add to the controversies centred on the Fremont factory in the San Francisco Bay area and which include a black former employee being awarded US$137 million (S$188 million) in a racism case.

“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,” one of the suits claims.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits, which in at least one instance argued that chief executive Elon Musk’s explicit or provocative posts on Twitter influenced the tone at the workplace.

The six separate new suits filed on Tuesday in a California court alleged that co-workers or supervisors made sexual propositions to the women, graphically commented about their bodies and, in some cases, inappropriately touched them.

Five of the women in the new cases work or worked in the Fremont factory facilities, while one was employed in service centres in southern California.

Ms Michaela Curran was 18 when she started her job at the Fremont plant and within weeks, her supervisor and co-workers were making explicit comments to her face about her body.

One male co-worker sexually propositioned her, saying that factory employees often had sex in the carpark. She quit after two months.

“Curran saw other women experiencing the same environment and witnesses will testify that they observed the rampant sexual harassment at Tesla,” her suit alleged.

Separately, Ms Alisa Blickman alleged in her lawsuit that she faced retaliation for reporting the misconduct.

“She was denied certain privileges and benefits that were afforded to women who did not object to supervisors’ sexual advances and flirtations,” Ms Blickman’s complaint said.

Ms Eden Mederos, who worked in southern California Tesla service centres, said Mr Musk’s Twitter posts that reference sex or drugs inspired laughter and jokes among her co-workers.

“When Tesla launched the Model Y, Elon repeatedly pointed out that when one reads the Tesla models S, 3, X and Y together, it spells ‘SEXY’,” her suit said. “Some of Ms Mederos’ co-workers latched on to this, calling everything ‘sexy’.”

This new suit comes after a California jury ruled in October that Tesla should pay a black former employee US$137 million in damages for turning a blind eye to racism the man encountered at the Fremont plant.

Last year, Mr Musk feuded with the authorities over the reopening of the factory amid coronavirus restrictions and threatened to move his headquarters out of state.

Subsequently, Mr Musk told investors in October that the leading electric vehicle maker is relocating its headquarters to Texas, where it is building a factory.

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