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Tesla factory workers have filed a lawsuit claiming widespread racism, unsafe conditions

CNBC logo CNBC 14/11/2017 Lora Kolodny

  • Tesla shares were trading down on Tuesday after news of a civil rights class-action lawsuit against the automaker.
  • Former Tesla employees alleged a racist culture and unsafe conditions at its Fremont factory.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX speaks at the 68th International Astronautical Congress 2017 in Adelaide on September 29, 2017. © Provided by CNBC Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX speaks at the 68th International Astronautical Congress 2017 in Adelaide on September 29, 2017.

Shares of TeslaTSLA closed down 2.1 percent on Tuesday afternoon following news of a civil rights lawsuit against the automakers.

The proposed class-action suit alleges a racist culture at Tesla, unsafe factory conditions, and failure on the part of the company, including CEO Elon Musk personally, to prevent or investigate race-based harassment and discrimination there.

Filed on behalf of plaintiff Marcus Vaughn, an ex-Tesla worker, and more than 100 African Americans who worked at Tesla's Fremont factory between November 2016 and November 2017,the suit claims that Tesla allowed factory workers to use racist epithets, failed to take corrective action against harassers and fired black workers who complained.

The suit references an e-mail that CEO Elon Musk allegedly sent to Fremont factory workers addressing complaints of a toxic culture. In this, Musk reportedly told black workers, and other minorities:

"Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of [a] historically less represented group," Musk wrote in the email. "Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology."

The suit also says that in July this year, black workers at Tesla's Fremont factory sent a note to Tesla's HR business partner Rose Sanson and CEO Elon Musk detailing the kinds of harassment they were experiencing. The email excerpted in the suit said:

"[One worker] spoke up and said he didn't like when associates say N--- on the line. It made him and a lot of us on the line feel uncomfortable. Since that day there has been so much backlash from him getting hit in the back of the head with a chair, to him getting called bipolar, sensitive, people say n---- just to get a reaction out of him....

I just hope whoever reads this does something about it before someone on my line snaps, and someone gets hurt."

Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read the full lawsuit filing here:

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