- Law firms
- Worker must prove liability before seeking damages, Tesla says
- Judge said $137 mln jury award was excessive
- Plaintiff opted for retrial on damages rather than reduced award
Oct 17 (Reuters) - Tesla Inc has asked a California federal judge who set aside a $137 million jury verdict in a factory worker's race discrimination case to order a completely new trial, arguing that proceeding with a narrower trial just on the issue of damages would be unconstitutional.
Tesla's lawyers in a filing in San Francisco federal court on Friday said jurors cannot determine how much the company should pay the worker, Owen Diaz, without first hearing all of the evidence about the alleged harassment that he faced at the company's flagship Fremont, California assembly plant.
Telling the jury that Tesla has already been found liable for tolerating discrimination would skew the case in favor of Diaz, violating Tesla's right to a fair jury trial under the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the company said.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tesla's motion on December 7. The damages trial is scheduled for March.
Lawyers for Tesla and Diaz did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Diaz in a 2017 lawsuit said other employees used racist slurs and scrawled swastikas and slurs on bathroom walls at the plant. He also said one supervisor drew a racist caricature near his workstation.
A jury last year awarded Diaz $137 million, one of the largest verdicts ever in a discrimination case involving a single worker. Orrick in April said the evidence amply supported the jury's finding that Tesla was liable for discrimination, but that the award was excessive and lowered it to $15 million.
Diaz's lawyers said the lower award was unjust and opted for a new trial on damages.
Tesla on Friday said the issues of liability and damages are "inextricably interwoven," and Diaz must start from scratch with a full retrial.
"The liability and damages here all turn on exactly the same thing: the purported extent, degree and magnitude of racial slurs and symbols Mr. Diaz encountered at the Fremont factory," Tesla's lawyers wrote.
Tesla is facing a series of lawsuits involving alleged widespread race discrimination and sexual harassment at the Fremont factory, including one by a California civil rights agency.
The company last month counter-sued the agency, claiming it filed the lawsuit without following the procedures required by state law.
The case is Diaz v Tesla Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 17-06748.
For Diaz: Lawrence Organ of California Civil Rights Law Group; Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon; J. Bernard Alexander of Alexander Morrison & Fehr
For Tesla: Kathleen Sullivan of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
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