Following the wild account of pervasive sexual harassment at Uber from a former employee, a current employee at Tesla has come forward to talk about her case against the company the company she loves.
The Guardian reports that AJ Vandermeyden filed a lawsuit against Tesla last year that alleges the company has a culture of “pervasive harassment,” that she was paid less than men doing the same job, and that less qualified men were promoted over her. She also says she was retaliated against for going to HR.
“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” Vandermeyden told the Guardian, “I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”
Vandermeyden started at Tesla in 2013 and was made a manufacturing engineer in the general assembly department. She alleges in her complaint that she was paid less than the men in the department, and was often the only woman in the room at meetings with 50 people. Though Vandermeyden caught issues with designs men engineers missed, she says that she and the few other women employees were denied promotions. The general environment sounds unpleasant too:
At the same time, she also experienced “unwelcome and pervasive harassment by men on the factory floor including but not limited to inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls”, the lawsuit said.
Vandermeyden recounted to the Guardian an incident in 2015 when she said a group of roughly 20 men standing on a platform above her and a female colleague began taunting as they walked past.
“They all started hooting and hollering and whistling,” she said. “That can’t happen without somebody noticing … It’s disturbing.”
Tesla has been criticized for its discouragement of union organizing, which fits in with Vandermeyden’s allegations that she was also frequently denied overtime pay and lunch breaks at work. She says she was criticized for being a “whistleblower” who pointed out issues with cars being sold that may have had defects. She says the lawsuit is certainly hanging over her at the job, explaining, “Half the time when I walk into work, I wonder if my badge is going to work.”
In a statement to the Guardian, a Tesla spokesperson didn’t share any specifics about Vandermeyden’s lawsuit, though they did say that Tesla knows “there is more we can do to promote diversity” and added, “As with any company with more than 30,000 employees, it is inevitable that there will be a small number of individuals who make claims against the company, but that does not mean those claims have merit.”
Update, 4:50 pm: In another statement, a Tesla spokesperson said:
Tesla is committed to creating a positive workplace environment that is free of discrimination for all our employees. Ms. Vandermeyden joined Tesla in a sales position in 2013, and since then, despite having no formal engineering degree, she has sought and moved into successive engineering roles, beginning with her work in Tesla’s paint shop and eventually another role in General Assembly. Even after she made her complaints of alleged discrimination, she sought and was advanced into at least one other new role, evidence of the fact that Tesla is committed to rewarding hard work and talent, regardless of background. When Ms. Vandermeyden first brought her concerns to us over a year ago, we immediately retained a neutral third party, Anne Hilbert of EMC2Law, to investigate her claims so that, if warranted, we could take appropriate action to address the issues she raised. After an exhaustive review of the facts, the independent investigator determined that Ms. Vandermeyden’s “claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated.” Without this context, the story presented in the original article is misleading.