Hirschfeld Kraemer’s Kirstin Muller was quoted in the Oct. 7, 2021 edition of Law360, in an article entitled “3 Lessons Employers Can Learn From Tesla’s $137M Defeat” (subscription required).
The case involved a Black elevator operator, a staffing service employee working at Tesla’s Northern California facility in 2015-16, who testified that he was repeatedly subjected to a racially hostile work environment, even after complaining to his supervisors. Tesla’s position was that it took appropriate action on the complaints and since Diaz was a subcontractor, not its employee, Tesla was not liable.
After a weeklong trial and just four hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously found that Tesla was a joint employer and, as such, had failed to take reasonable steps to protect Diaz. He was awarded $136.9 million ($130 million for punitive damages and $6.9 million for emotional distress).
Noting that this case was a bellwether for civil litigation, post-pandemic, as the U.S. grapples with issues related to race, Kirstin Muller told Law360:
“Nobody wants to come after Tesla. … This is kind of the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “So now we know, there’s gas in there.”
“At the end of the day, what they said is employers, and the firm or the company that runs a facility, is responsible for the culture in that workplace, even if there’s a legal construct in place that says they aren’t the primary employer,” Muller said.
You can read the full article here (Law360 subscription required)