A new lawsuit accuses Tesla of "unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and work practices,” including chemical and oil spills, chemical fires, workplace injury rate discrepancies and inaccuracies, and a failure to report or document workplace injuries."
Questions and concerns about workplace safety incidents at Tesla continue, with the latest chapter in the story coming from the company’s former safety director who is suing the company. In a lawsuit that was first reported by Jalopnik, the company’s former safety director alleges that he was fired in retaliation for bringing up concerns about safety and incident reporting - the same types of concerns that were detailed in a Reveal expose that was published in April. The Reveal expose prompted a safety investigation from California regulators.
According to Jalopnik, Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability Carlos Ramirez – who had previously worked as Vice President of Safety for SolarCity – was fired in June 2017. Allegedly, in order to embrace his new job as director of safety at Tesla, he needed to audit the company's incident reporting system, which is essentially a database of accidents and injuries.
As he details in the lawsuit, once he looked into this incident reporting system that he found "numerous instances of lack of treatment of Tesla employees that suffered workplace injuries, recordkeeping violations, and improper classification of workplace injuries to avoid treating and reporting workplace injuries.”
He then reported all this to Tesla, who subsequently fired him weeks later in order to shut him up. He also alleges in the lawsuit that Tesla simply made untrue statements to the state and the public regarding safety at their Fremont plant.
As Jalopnik adds, workplace safety issues came to light after Reveal's expose in April:
Issues surrounding Tesla’s workplace records came to light in April, after the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting’s publication Reveal put out a story that said Tesla improperly classifies injuries on the OSHA 300 report—paperwork by the government required to log serious work-related injuries and illnesses—which effectively bolstered its safety record.
California regulators launched an investigation the next day, without saying whether it was in response to Reveal’s report. Tesla vehemently denied the allegations and insisted its workplace injury rate is better than the auto industry’s average. (Incredibly, the automaker went so far as to label Reveal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news outlet, of being an “extremist organization.”)
Among other things, the Reveal article questioned the lack of the color yellow - used to mark risky areas or hazards in a factory setting. Reveal was told that this was because "Elon does not like the color yellow." Photos in the Reveal expose show plenty of red...
...but no little yellow.
The new Jalopnik article notes that Ramirez seemed to be front and center in noticing these very same issues, as well as questionable incident reporting standards. For instance, it was reported that during May he attended a workplace meeting where he reported unsafe working conditions. Weeks after that, according to the lawsuit, he was fired:
At a May 19, 2017, workplace meeting, Ramirez alleges he reported “unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and practices” and “disclosed information he had reasonable cause to believe disclosed a violation” of state or federal laws, including “allegedly inaccurate Tesla OSHA 300 records, incident rate numbers, and improper classification of workplace injuries.”
Weeks later, the suit says, Tesla fired him.
“Among other adverse employment actions, Tesla wrongfully accused Plaintiff of bullying, brought unfounded complaints against him, and terminated Plaintiff’s employment on June 8, 2017,” the lawsuit alleges.
Ramirez’s suit lays out a litany of issues that he said he raised to Tesla about “unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and work practices,” including chemical and oil spills, chemical fires, workplace injury rate discrepancies and inaccuracies, and a failure to report or document workplace injuries.
He also claims he was the target of racial discrimination:
Around the time of the May 2017 meeting, Ramirez alleges he also complained to his boss about two Tesla employees being “racially biased” toward him. (Ramirez identifies as a Mexican-American Hispanic in the suit.)
Ramirez says his supervisor asked him if he “really needed to send” an email “that contained a complaint and report of such lawful conduct,” according to the suit. “He told Plaintiff that his complaint would just create problems.”
Tesla released a statement in response, accusing Ramirez of bullying and harrassment:
Mr. Ramirez was employed by Tesla for less than four months after joining from SolarCity, and during his short time at Tesla, it was his job to identify ways to enhance our safety program, and he certainly was not terminated for doing so. That would make no sense.
Mr. Ramirez was terminated because after an extensive investigation, it was clear that he had engaged over and over again in harassing workplace behavior and used extremely inappropriate language that violated any reasonable standard. We conducted our investigation after we received an onslaught of complaints about Mr. Ramirez’s behavior, with nearly a dozen different employees stating that he engaged in clear bullying, sought to intimidate his colleagues, and repeatedly made inappropriate comments about women. Importantly, this was not a case of he said/she said. There were literally almost a dozen people who came forward to complain about Mr. Ramirez – notably, from a wide variety of different locations and departments within the company, some of whom were Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports and others who were his peers in other departments. Among the evidence that was provided:
- One employee said that Mr. Ramirez commented on a fellow employee by saying ‘she’s got some big old [expletive].’ This obviously made the employee very uncomfortable.
- One of Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports said that he made inappropriate comments towards women, calling them names like ‘hun’, and that he regularly tried to intimidate others.
- Another employee told her manager that because of the abrasive language that Mr. Ramirez repeatedly used against her, she never wanted to interact with him again.
- One of Mr. Ramirez’s direct reports said that he regularly mistreated his team, and that she felt he bullied team members and others with abusive remarks.
- Multiple employees said that they were fearful of coming forward because they had witnessed Mr. Ramirez engage in intimidation and they were scared of being retaliated against by him.
Bullying and harassment have no place at Tesla.
You can read the full lawsuit here.