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The Diaz-Tesla Lawsuit & What It Means

Owen Diaz has been awarded over $3 million in his discrimination lawsuit against Tesla. But the final award Diaz received was reduced significantly from what the original jury found.

The backdrop is this—Diaz was an African-American employee who worked at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, CA from 2015-16. He brought forth allegations of racial harassment. Those allegations included racial slurs being directed at him, along with bathroom graffiti that included swastikas and other imagery that was racially insulting.

The original Diaz-Tesla lawsuit was heard in San Francisco in 2017, and the results were stunning—while the compensatory damages were a modest $175,000, the punitive damages came in at $137 million.

The reason for the discrepancy goes to the differing nature between compensatory and punitive damages. In the former, the plaintiff (Diaz) has to show they were personally damaged because of actions the defendant (Tesla) took or failed to take. Examples of compensatory damages in a case like Diaz’s might include the need for professional therapy, quitting the job due to a hostile work environment, and diminished ability to enjoy life.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are aimed at the defendant and are intended to send a message to the rest of society. The $137 million punitive award was based on that.

But there are limits to punitive damages. While the state of California does not place a formal cap on how much can be awarded in punitive damages, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that they should generally not exceed 10x the value of compensatory damages. By that standard, the $3.2 million Diaz ultimately received might still be considered a significant win for his legal team.

Winning in a Discrimination Case

Every discrimination lawsuit has its own unique dynamic, but the general principles that unfolded in the Diaz case are noteworthy. There is a significant amount of competing allegations made by each side.

For example, Tesla’s attorneys attempted to argue that Diaz had an argumentative nature at work and overdramatized his suffering. By contrast, Diaz cited the incidents noted above, along with a failure of Tesla management to do anything when he brought complaints forward.

An experienced discrimination lawyer will work with a plaintiff to gather as much evidence as possible. That certainly starts with the paper trail that comes with formally filing a complaint with Human Resources. This action alone makes the company legally aware of any illegal harassment and obliges them to act.

Employees should further document all incidents. Cellphone pictures can be taken, emails and text messages saved, and verbal incidents can be written down by the employee so that everything can be recalled later. Colleagues who have either been treated similarly, or at least witnessed the offending actions, can be called forth to testify.

A case like this isn’t likely to have a “smoking gun” that makes harassment cut-and-dry. More often than not, harassment is proven by the painstaking, diligent gathering of little pieces of evidence that come together to show a clear picture.

We’re Here to Help

No one should have to work in an environment like Owen Diaz did, something even Tesla tacitly acknowledged in saying they “weren’t perfect.” Getting justice may depend on the quality of your lawyer, and that lawyer’s ability to patiently put together the evidence required to secure a fair settlement.

Contact Shellist Lazarz Slobin today at (713) 352-3433 or here online for a consultation to discuss your case.