Just one day after Time named Tesla CEO Elon Musk its “Person of the Year,” six women have filed lawsuits against the company, alleging horrific sexual harassment by male co-workers and superiors that the women claim was inspired by Musk himself.
In six separate lawsuits, women say they were regularly catcalled and groped by male co-workers to the point where one employee created a barricade out of cardboard boxes to hide from her co-workers, according to the Washington Post:
“Jessica Brooks, who works at the Fremont seat factory, alleged the harassment was so extreme she stacked boxes around her work station to deter men from ogling and whistling at her. In a legal complaint and an interview with The Post, she says she bought flannel shirts at a thrift store to tie around her waist, in an effort to conceal her backside and prevent men from directing lewd comments at her.”
When Brooks complained to HR, the lawsuit claims, she was simply moved to another part of the factory. Another former employee at the Fremont factory alleges that she was only able to work in her job for two months before she was forced to quit out of concerns for her own safety after being harassed by her supervisor:
“Michala Curran started working at Tesla when she was 18 years old, she said. “Within her first weeks at work, her own Supervisor told her that with her ‘big butt’ she should … be an exotic dancer, and tried to slap her on the backside as she changed out of the bodysuit she had to wear when painting Tesla’s cars,” according to the lawsuit.”
A third lawsuit claims that another woman employee was transferred to a workspace widely regarded as “one of the worst places at Tesla” after fighting back against her supervisor’s advances.
The women suing Tesla allege that CEO Elon Musk enabled their harassment by encouraging a culture of sexism with his Tweets and his propensity for using juvenile acronyms like T.I.T.S. in his attempts at humor or naming Tesla Models S, 3, X and Y, which spells “sexy” to those who found TI-83 buttons the pinnacle of comedy:
“When they were rumoring that the Model Y was coming out and it was sexy … around that time everything got worse,” said Eden Mederos, 31, in an interview with The Washington Post. “It was like, ‘Oh this door panel’s sexy, this pencil’s sexy.’” Mederos, who lives in Clark County, Wash., and worked in Tesla service centers before filing her complaint, said Musk’s comments seemed to directly influence the behavior of her co-workers. “He would make 69 or 420 jokes … which caused the technicians to be even worse.”
Former SpaceX engineer Ashley Kosak recently published an essay at Lioness alleging that she experienced and witnessed similar harassment in her time working for a Musk-backed company:
“In the past year alone, I have had to bring multiple different incidents of sexism to HR. Some of the men who work at SpaceX hug women without consent, stare at women while they work, and interpret every company-related social event as an opportunity to date (or hit on) women in the office. I saw one woman pressured into dancing with a male colleague in front of other male employees. When we had to work from home during the pandemic, men from the company found my Instagram account, messaging me to ask me out. One called my phone at 4:00 am. Another coworker came to my house and insisted on touching me even when I repeatedly requested we stay professional.”
She says that reporting her harassment to an anonymous tipline resulted in her being contacted by HR, as the tipline did, in fact, reveal the reporter’s identity.
This isn’t the first time Tesla has been hit with allegations that it’s a terrible fucking place to work for anyone who is not a white man. In October, Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont factory, was awarded $137 million following a lawsuit alleging that he was subject to daily racist harassment, including routinely being called the n-word. In that case, Tesla argued that Diaz’s lawsuit should be disregarded because he was a contract employee, according to a statement to workers on the company’s website by Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla’s vice president of people. Per the Washington Post:
“While they all agreed that the use of the n-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner,” Workman wrote.
The future promised by Tesla and SpaceX certainly does sound just as fucking terrible as the past and present, at least for everyone who isn’t a dude with 100 billion dollars.