Black Tesla worker says he faced racist taunts, violent threats

(Reuters) - A black production worker at Tesla Inc has filed a lawsuit claiming his job quickly turned from “a dream come true” to a nightmare when he was subjected to racial epithets and threats of violence from coworkers.

DeWitt Lambert says Tesla supervisors at the Fremont, California, factory where he has worked building electric cars since 2015 ignored his complaints about the harassment, even after he showed them a video his coworkers made on his phone in which they threatened to cut him up and send the pieces to his family members. The lawsuit was filed on Monday in California state court.

Lambert, 44, said other production workers routinely made racist and sexually charged comments to him, and when he complained, they falsely accused him of various infractions. He also claims he was passed over for promotions because of his race.

The races of Lambert’s coworkers were not clear from the complaint.

A Tesla spokesman, in a statement, said several employees were fired after the company investigated Lambert’s complaints and that he is currently suspended with pay. But the company also said Lambert was friendly with the coworkers he claims harassed him before a falling out, and that he also used racial epithets and made threats.

The spokesman said Lambert was promoted last year and did not receive a second promotion because he posted a picture taken inside the plant on Facebook, in violation of company policy.

“The lawsuit has been timed to coincide with a carefully planned media blitz in an attempt to create a disingenuous narrative that is at odds with the facts,” said the spokesman, who requested anonymity, citing company policy.

In his lawsuit, Lambert says other Tesla workers were not disciplined after posting photos taken inside the plant on social media. He claims Tesla violated California labor laws prohibiting racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and is seeking unspecified damages.

The complaint comes one month after a female Tesla engineer filed a lawsuit in California state court claiming she was sexually harassed, paid less than her male colleagues and passed over for promotions because of her sex.

In October, a 69-year-old former Tesla engineer filed an age discrimination lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco saying he was unfairly criticized by younger supervisors and coworkers, and ultimately fired, because of his age.

The recent case is Lambert v. Tesla Inc, California Superior Court, Alameda County, No. RG17854515.

(This story has been corrected to remove references to ‘white’ coworkers, paragraphs 1, 5; complaint not specific on coworkers’ race, paragraph 4)

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Dan Grebler