On Thursday, Jessica Barraza, a production associate at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., filed a lawsuit against the company alleging “rampant sexual harassment” and “nightmarish conditions.” In her first months at Tesla, Barraza told The Washington Post she experienced near daily harassment, distressing her to the point that she was forced to take medical leave with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“After almost three years of experiencing all the harassment, it robs your sense of security — it almost dehumanizes you,” she said.
In her Thursday lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in Alameda County, Barraza, who’s worked at Tesla for almost three years, alleges not just verbal harassment — including being described by co-workers as having a “Coke bottle figure,” “onion booty,” “fat ass,” and “fat ass titties” — but also aggressive physical touching. She alleges being lifted up by one male co-worker, and having another insert his leg between her thighs.
Barraza says she filed several complaints with supervisors and HR in September and October, but told the Post that the company did nothing to address the harassment. She alleges that one supervisory lead sexually propositioned her over text, while another told her “maybe you shouldn’t wear shirts that draw attention to your chest” upon overhearing Barraza complaining about a male co-worker staring at her breasts. According to Barraza, she had been “wearing a work shirt provided by Tesla.”
Barraza said the culture of day-to-day harassment and dehumanization that she and other women workers at Tesla’s Fremont factory experience can be traced to the top. She specifically cited one tweet in particular by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, made at the end of last month: “Am thinking of starting new university: Texas Institute of Technology & Science,” Musk wrote. The acronym for this university would be TITS, and for anyone who might try to excuse this as unintentional, Musk doubled down to all but confirm what he meant in a follow-up tweet.
“That doesn’t set a good example for the factory — it almost gives it like an … ‘he’s tweeting about it, it has to be okay,’” Barraza told the Post of the tweets. “It’s not fair to myself, to my family, to other women who are working there.”
Beyond the tweet in question, Musk certainly has a checkered history of overt and alleged sexism, ranging from his frequent disparaging of gender identity and pronouns, to allegations of mistreatment from ex-wives.
In addition to Barraza, the Post spoke to several other current and former Tesla workers, who described the culture at its Fremont facilities as “male-driven, retaliatory, and unwelcoming to women.” Another production associate at Tesla, Alisa Blickman, referenced the factory’s notoriously demanding working conditions. “I don’t know if it’s the 12 hour shifts that get to these guys or what it is — they just act like they’ve never seen girls in there or something,” she said. “You really feel like a piece of meat in there.”
Nallely Gamboa, a former Tesla production associate, told the Post that after she reported harassment, she was moved to work in a different part of the factory, which is a “common pattern,” according to workers at the plant.
Barraza’s suit comes just after Tesla was ordered last month to pay $137 million to another employee, a Black man named Owen Diaz who said he faced a hostile work environment and daily, racist harassment, including use of the N-word, also at the Fremont plant.
Diaz’s suit alleged that all workers at the company faced an environment “straight from the Jim Crow era,” and that many experienced frequent racist harassment without support from supervisors or HR. His lawsuit called “Tesla’s progressive image” a “facade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees.”
An attorney for Barraza told the Post he sees her case and Diaz’s as rooted in “the same kind of dominance and disparagement and dehumanization.” But she may face additional challenges to move her case forward, because Tesla requires employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements, which Barraza’s attorneys have said are “illegal and unenforceable.”
Barraza and Diaz aren’t the only Tesla factory workers or employees who have recently sued the company for alleged discrimination and mistreatment—from the company’s persistent union-busting efforts to its notoriously unsafe working conditions for factory workers, who are paid substantially less than the national average for auto-workers, these allegations of mistreatment aren’t exactly surprising.
Tesla, which the Post notes hasn’t had an active public relations department since last year, has yet to comment on the suit or Barraza and other women’s allegations.