A black former elevator operator at Tesla’s flagship California assembly plant on Tuesday rejected a $15 million reward in his lawsuit alleging racial abuse by co-workers, opening the door to a new trial after a judge reduced a jury verdict by $137 million.
Lawyers for Owen Diaz, who sued Tesla in 2017, denied the judge’s decision in a brief filing in federal court in San Francisco. They said in a statement that the award was unfair and would not deter future misconduct by Tesla.
“In rejecting the excessive curtailment of the court by seeking a new trial, Mr. Diaz is again asking a jury of his peers to assess what Tesla did to him and provide just compensation for the torrent of racial slurs that were addressed to him,” his lawyers said.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick lowered the jury award, which was one of the largest of its kind in a discrimination lawsuit, to $15 million in April. He had also denied Tesla’s request for a new trial, subject to Diaz accepting the lower sentence.
Earlier this month, the judge denied Diaz’s motion for leave to appeal that decision and gave him two weeks to accept the lower sentence or agree to a new trial.
Tesla is facing a series of lawsuits involving widespread racial discrimination and sexual harassment at its factory in Fremont, California, including one brought by a California civil rights agency.
Last week, a Tesla shareholder filed a lawsuit accusing the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, and the board of neglecting worker complaints and fostering a toxic work culture.
Tesla has denied wrongdoing and says it has policies in place to prevent and address misconduct.
Diaz alleged co-workers and a supervisor subjected him to a hostile work environment that included slurs, cartoons and swastikas during his nine months at the Fremont plant in 2015 and 2016.
A jury awarded Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages last October, but Orrick said in April those numbers were excessive.
Diaz’s attorneys, in their statement Tuesday, said Orrick’s ruling highlights the systemic bias that federal judges have against juries, which in turn violates plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to trial by jury.