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A New Ruling and a New (Reduced) Verdict for Tesla

Over a one-week period, a federal circuit court upheld a ruling against Tesla, and a jury reached a verdict against the company in a retrial (with a lower award).

Richard Ortiz worked at Tesla in 2017 and participated in efforts to unionize the company's plant in Fremont, California. While trying to unionize the plant, Ortiz posted screenshots of anti-union co-workers on his private Facebook page. The company asked him about the screenshots, and when Ortiz lied about it, Tesla fired him for making a false statement. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reviewed the termination of Ortiz's employment and concluded Tesla fired Ortiz because of his union activity. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the NLRB order.  In reaching their conclusions, the NLRB and circuit court relied on "substantial evidence" that "union animus motivated the complaint, the investigation and the decision to terminate Ortiz." A tweet by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, was part of that substantial evidence. The tweet read, "Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare."  Tesla must reinstate and provide back pay to Ortiz, and Musk must delete his tweet.

A federal jury in California reached a verdict that requires Tesla to pay $3.2 million to a Black former employee alleging racial harassment. Plaintiff Owen Diaz said Tesla failed to act after he complained about racist slurs, scrawled swastikas, and racist caricatures and epithets in his work areas. This case first went before a jury in 2021 and resulted in an award to Diaz of $137 million. The judge had agreed Tesla broke the law but decided the original verdict was excessive because Diaz had only worked nine months at Tesla and did not allege any physical injury. The court ordered a new trial after Diaz rejected a verdict reduction to $15 million. A racial discrimination class action against Tesla is still pending. Tesla has denied all wrongdoing.