Elon Musks firm Tesla ordered to pay ex-employee £100m over racist abuse

Tesla must pay a black former employee $137million (£100m) in compensation after he endured racism as a lift operator.

Owen Diaz was hired to the company's northern California factory as an elevator attendant in 2015, but quickly experienced a hostile work environment, Bloomberg reported.

According to lawyer J Bernard Alexander III, the n-word was "pervasive and virtually everywhere".

The casual racism Owen heard from his colleagues caused stress and even weight loss, the hearing heard.

Mr Diaz said he would sometimes sit on the stairs alone and cry.

Lawyers for Tesla argued Owen's story "didn't make sense", because he encouraged family members to work at the company.

Racial taunts and offensive graffiti were not acted upon by Tesla, despite Owen's complaints, the court heard.

That made the company liable – and led to one of the biggest employment tribunal pay-outs in history.

But despite Tesla's tough stance at the tribunal, the company was quick to treat the verdict as a learning process.

Personnel executive Valerie Capers Workman wrote an email to Tesla staff immediately following the ruling with the subject line "Regarding Today’s Jury Verdict".

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Workman wrote: “The Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today.”

Diaz took advantage of a loophole to attain the huge sum.

Because he was hired as a private contractor, he didn't have to sign Tesla's compulsory arbitration agreements banning employees from suing the company, or each other.

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The jury awarded almost $7m (£5.1m) for emotional distress and $130m (£75m) in punitive damages.

It's extremely rare for any company to be ordered to pay such a sum in public – particularly one which has some of the world's most advanced systems for avoiding exactly that outcome.

But Tesla's northern California operation isn't short of run-ins with ex-workers alleging racism, either.

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In May, another black ex-employee, Melvin Berry, was handed $1m (£730k) after the company failed to deal with his supervisors repeatedly calling him the n-word.

Attorney Larry Organ represented both Owen and Melvin, Bloomberg reported.

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