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California agency must provide Tesla with details of racial bias investigation

Image Credits: Tesla

California's Civil Rights Department (CRD) must provide Tesla with details of the investigation it conducted prior to filing a lawsuit against the company for racial discrimination, a judge has ruled.

The CRD first sued Tesla in February last year after receiving several allegations that Tesla's Fremont factory was a racially segregated workplace where Black workers were subject to mistreatment, unequal pay, harassment and a hostile work environment.

Tesla has tried, and failed, to have the case dismissed, arguing that the CRD didn't follow proper protocol in its investigations into the automaker's Fremont factory. In a blog post following the lawsuit, Tesla denied wrongdoing and called the lawsuit "misguided," saying the agency didn't provide Tesla with specific allegations or factual bases for its lawsuit.

The tentative ruling passed Monday by California Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo will provide Tesla with the details it has sought, and could give the automaker a chance to narrow the scope of the lawsuit.

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California law requires the CRD to investigate discrimination claims by workers before suing employers. If the agency is found to have not probed certain claims before filing suit, Tesla can ask to have those claims removed from the case or even try again at having the case dismissed.

What comes to light when the CRD shares the details of its investigations could have an effect on Tesla's countersuit against the CRD, which was filed in September. In that lawsuit, Tesla alleges that the agency didn't first notify the automaker of claims of racial discrimination at its factory or give the company a chance to settle outside of court -- difficult to do with a company that has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Tesla hopes to use that lawsuit to get the CRD barred from following what Tesla says are unlawful procedures in the investigation of an employer. The CRD has a demurrer pending for that suit with a hearing date of April 11.

The CRD can still contest Grillo's decision at a hearing on Tuesday, because it is a tentative ruling, but it's unlikely the judge will make a change.

Neither the CRD nor Tesla could be reached for comment.

This is one of several lawsuits pending in California courts that accuse Tesla of allowing discrimination and sexual harassment at its factories. Last June, a Black former worker at the Fremont factory rejected a $15 million payout from the automaker, which had been slashed by a judge from the original $137 million jury verdict. The worker, Owen Diaz, has opted for a new trial on damages, which is set to begin March 27.