Female employees at Tesla’s Fremont factory in California face “rampant sexual harassment,” according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday. In a complaint with the state’s Superior Court in Alameda County, Jessica Barraza, 38, a production associate with Tesla, said she was subjected to “nightmarish” working conditions over the past three years. Barraza’s lawsuit describes a factory floor that looks more like “a crude, archaic construction site or frat house” than the site of advanced EV production.
Barraza’s allegations against Tesla are numerous. In one incident, the suit alleges a male co-worker stuck his leg between her thighs when she went to punch in after a lunch break. Amid the harassment, Barraza says her complaints fell on deaf ears. In one instance, she says a supervisor did nothing when she complained of a co-worker staring at her breasts. “Maybe you shouldn’t wear shirts that draw attention to your chest,” her supervisor told her, according to the suit. Barraza told the man she was “wearing a work shirt provided by Tesla.”
“After almost three years of experiencing all the harassment, it robs your sense of security — it almost dehumanizes you,” Barraza said in an interview with The Washington Post, which was the first outlet to report on the suit. We’ve reached out to Tesla for comment. The company does not typically respond to media requests. It closed its main press office in 2020.
The suit comes one month after Tesla was ordered by a federal court to pay $137 million to a Black employee who said they were subjected to daily racist abuse at its Fremont factory. “We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns,” the company said at the time. “Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and when that happens we should be held accountable.” Tesla is appealing the award.
Tesla also isn’t the only EV-maker accused of fostering a toxic workplace for women. Just days before its IPO, Rivian was sued by Laura Schwab, one of its former executives. In her lawsuit, Schwab alleges the automaker fired her after she complained of a “toxic ‘bro culture’” that saw her excluded from meetings and more. “The culture at Rivian was actually the worst I’ve experienced in over 20 years in the automotive industry,” Schwab said at the time.
Barraza said Tesla's human resources department has not addressed complaints she filed in September and October, and even disabled its mailto:email@example.com email address for receiving complaints.
Barraza is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
She also said that like many "tech employers," Tesla requires many workers to sign arbitration agreements, keeping workplace disputes out of court, but that her agreement's "unconscionable" terms make it unenforceable.
Barraza said she is on doctor-ordered medical leave, with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.