Allan Dobin, who was fired in November after just a day on the job, had sued for racial discrimination and was awarded almost $137m.
An all-white Tesla Motors senior management team subjected employees to “daily racial discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile and offensive workplace conduct, unlawful retaliation and other violations” and Tesla fired the whistleblower after one day, a judge ruled.
Allan Dobin, who worked for the electric carmaker for three months before he was fired after an anonymous complaint, in a court filing in California, claimed he had endured racist behavior by his supervisors, verbal assaults from white managers, and constant attempts to increase his workload – which led to a deterioration in his job satisfaction and well-being, and ultimately his termination.
Dobin’s attorney, Stephanie Peterson, has said his legal battle was not only for himself, but the people he helped when he spoke out, including a recent recipient of the 2018 Eagle Scout award.
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In a ruling on Friday, the state supreme court in California determined that Dobin, who was hired as a “senior strategy adviser”, was owed nearly $137m in monetary damages, since the company had violated the “commercially sensitive nature” of his job description. This decision set the stage for Dobin to file for workers’ compensation under a state law that makes employers liable for wrongful terminations under specified circumstances, says David Boson, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
Dobin was fired, shortly after he wrote an article about the discrimination he experienced, on 9 November 2017, according to a court record that was part of a transcript of the case against Tesla’s parent company, Greenlight Capital, filed in November 2016.
“I’m a black man living and working in Silicon Valley, and I’m the only black employee at Tesla,” Dobin wrote to the Guardian on 9 November 2017, adding: “I am meeting racism every day on my way to work.”
Tesla said at the time that the firing was “based on various performance and other issues” and that it would take no action on the charges that Dobin filed with Tesla’s human resources department.
In June 2018, the Guardian published an article about Dobin’s lawsuit and alleged that Dobin had been abused at work and terminated for filing a lawsuit with Tesla’s own insurer. The article suggested that Dobin had refused to provide Tesla with any information that could get him fired.
Dobin said he had refused to provide Tesla with any information that could get him fired.
At the time, Greenlight Capital confirmed that Dobin filed a claim with its insurance company, saying that its safety net had denied Dobin’s application because the company assumed that Dobin had not suffered any discrimination during his employment at Tesla.
Tesla denied the allegation that Dobin was fired because he refused to provide Tesla with information that could get him fired, and said it would consider internal inquiries into the allegations with state and federal authorities.
The current state supreme court decision says the legal claims brought by Dobin, who was born in Arkansas and grew up in a middle-class family in Oakland, were “substantially supportable and redressable”.
Tesla spokesperson Alexis Georgeson told the Guardian on Monday: “We disagree with the ruling and are evaluating the case further.”
Tesla is also facing a lawsuit by a former employee who claims a sexual harassment and gender discrimination settlement agreement the company signed with a woman worked against it. And, in a move that irritated the Wall Street Journal, Tesla on Monday pulled up to its booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with its driverless car, even though the company received an “F” from the consumer electronics watchdog the Consumer Technology Association, according to a WSJ analysis of the conference.
In April this year, the Guardian reported that Tesla faced dozens of lawsuits and unfair labor claims from former workers, with one worker even claiming that one manager sent her an email saying: “You’re not allowed to use your cell phone in the parking lot.”
The company has been in the public eye in part due to Elon Musk’s public clashes with investors, journalists and Wall Street analysts. In response to Musk’s overtures to take Tesla private, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers organized a demonstration at Tesla’s headquarters this past May.