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Tesla accused of race-based discrimination, retaliation by former HR manager

Tesla is currently facing a new race-based discrimination lawsuit, this time from a former human resources manager at the Fremont Factory. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in San Francisco.

The plaintiff in the case, 47-year-old Karen Draper, is claiming that she was terminated for refusing to unlawfully fire a Latina employee who was targeted by a White supervisor. Draper, an African-American, was hired in February 2022 to manage a team of HR personnel at Tesla’s Fremont factory.

As per the legal complaint, Draper faced issues seven months into her tenure when a Latina production supervisor was granted medical leave. A White manager, who allegedly harbored a bias against the supervisor due to her ethnicity and gender, wanted to have the production supervisor terminated during her leave. The defendant, who was not named in the lawsuit, reportedly disliked the supervisor “because of her Latina ethnicity and female gender.”

The lawsuit noted that Draper’s efforts to stop the electric vehicle maker from illegally terminating the production supervisor ended up putting her in direct conflict with the manager. Both the manager pushing for the firing and the production supervisor involved reportedly worked in the Fremont Factory’s Model Y line, as per a report from The Mercury News.

“The Model Y production managers wielded a lot of institutional power within the company and frequently held face-to-face meetings with Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk. Musk frequently traveled to Tesla’s Fremont production facility to walk the Model Y manufacturing line and interact directly with production floor employees and production managers. There was, and remains, constant pressure to keep the Model Y’s sales trajectory high,” the complaint noted.

Draper further alleged that when HR staff who were working under her direction attempted to inform the manager that firing the supervisor without due cause would expose Tesla to legal action, the manager reportedly reacted in a loud and aggressive manner. The plaintiff later met with the manager herself, and he proved “loud, rude, rabid, and intransigent.” The lawsuit claimed that after Draper brought the matter to her direct manager, Tesla opened an investigation against her instead.

Draper also claimed that her managers, during discussions about the dispute, used racial stereotypes against her, dubbing her an “angry Black woman” and accusing her of “playing the race card.” She noted that two months after she refused to terminate the production supervisor, she herself was ousted from her post at the company. The reason behind Draper’s termination was reportedly listed as “performance issues,” which was ironic since Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly promoted her personally in June of the previous year.

Draper’s lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses Tesla of retaliation, race-based discrimination, and wrongful termination.

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