In May, a report claimed that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had allegedly sexually harassed, solicited, and privately settled with a SpaceX flight attendant. The allegation against Musk came just months after several women factory workers at Tesla filed lawsuits against the company in the fall of 2021, alleging rampant workplace sexual harassment, forcing several women out of their jobs. This week, a handful of these women talked to the Rolling Stone about just how deep the misogyny ran at the company’s factories.
In multiple cases, the women allege male factory workers—who routinely made comments about their bodies, sexually solicited them, and rated their “fuckability”—often “accidentally” touched them in their close-quartered workstations. Walking from the parking lot to the factory meant wading through throngs of cat-callers who were their co-workers. In the same parking lot where a Tesla worker once staked out and shot a co-worker, one woman alleged to have been stalked from the factory to her car by a drunk, male co-worker soliciting her for a ride. Overall, the women claim male factory workers allegedly treated the premises like a frat party—and Tesla’s supervisors and HR department did nothing to stop them, encouraged the harassment, or occasionally tried to help, but couldn’t singlehandedly alleviate a culture of harassment that was so pervasive.
Around 2017, with the release of the Model 3 and completion of Musk’s “S3XY” line—a title he took tremendous pride in—an office concierge at the service center named Eden Mederos told Rolling Stone men in the office took to calling everything “sexy.” If questioned about the uncomfortable practice, she claims, “They would say, ‘Well, [Musk] says it, so why can’t we say any of this stuff?’” A factory worker naked Alisa Blickman said during her orientation last fall, she recalls walking into a conference room of men wearing “S3XY” shirts, as they repeatedly sexualized Teslas with comments like, “Teslas are so sexy” and “These are some sexy cars.” Blickman said she was then shown an instructional video on sexual harassment in which many of the examples in the video portrayed women harassing men.
“There are people in that factory who see [Musk] as a god,” Blickman said. “If he talks like that, they know they can, too.”
One woman, Jessica Barraza, alleges in the lawsuit that as she scanned her badge to enter the factory, a man wedged his leg between hers and rubbed his groin against her. Mederos said that after male employees were required to watch videos on sexual harassment, they would touch her arm and leg and sarcastically say, “Oh, no, I’m sexually harassing you.” Blickman said male co-workers routinely rubbed against her arms and legs at their work stations, and her male supervisor gave her unsolicited lower-back massages.
Alize Brown, a factory worker who was breastfeeding a newborn when she first started working at the factory, says she was frequently solicited by co-workers at her work station who called her a “cow” and commented on her “milking.” One co-worker stalked and harassed Brown on a regular basis, and she said her supervisor was little help. She was ultimately the one who was punished for trying to protect herself: When her badge didn’t allow her to enter the factory one morning, Brown learned she had been fired because she spent too much time away from her workstation. “I was just trying to get away from the men who were harassing me,” Brown told Rolling Stone. “I begged them to move me or them. They never listened. Instead, they fired me.”
Unhelpful or actively predatory supervisors seem to be a common theme. “I just think you sexy asf and wanted to kick it … you know I always had a crush on yo fine ass,” read a text Barraza said she once received from her supervisor. On top of the creepy lower-back massages, Blickman told the magazine her supervisor once came up behind her and whispered, “I hear you don’t like to scream loud enough.”
The women recalled facing a number of day-to-day indignities. When a rumor went around that Mederos was deaf, a male technician said to her face, “I’ve never seen a white girl with an ass like her.” The same technician also allegedly commented on the body of a 12-year-old girl who was visiting the Tesla center, and when he was told her age, Mederos claims he said, “Those tits are not 12.” When Mederos brought dinosaur figurines to decorate her desk, they were immediately rearranged in sexual positions. She said she stopped eating food at work because whenever she did, at least one male co-worker would make sex noises and ask her, “How much more can you fit into your mouth?”
Musk often brags about being “hands-on” at his company, even once bragging he “lived” in one of his factories. He’s never publicly acknowledged the lawsuits (seven known suits against Tesla and one against SpaceX) or indicated any awareness of prevalent sexual harassment at his companies—but nonetheless, it’s his responsibility to know about behaviors at his company. The women who spoke with Rolling Stone cited Musk’s Twitter behavior, his perennial obsession with the number “69" (the man is 51-years-old), and his pitch for TITS University, arguing that he should be held accountable for the rampant, sexist misbehavior at his company. Certainly, asking a flight attendant for an erotic massage in exchange for a horse and rubbing the woman’s leg is eerily reminiscent of many of the behaviors alleged by the women factory workers suing Tesla.
The ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit comes after a different suit where a Black factory worker alleged rampant use of the n-word at the factory, and a jury found the company liable. Earlier this year, 15 Tesla workers filed a suit alleging that white bosses frequently greeted Black workers with comments like “Welcome to the plantation,” and assigned Black workers the most physical labor-intensive assignments. “Race plays no role in any of Tesla’s work assignments, promotions, pay, or discipline,” lawyers for the company said in a statement in response to the latter lawsuit. “Tesla prohibits discrimination, in any form.” The latter lawsuit remains ongoing.
Tesla got rid of its PR department in 2020 after nearly all the company’s communications employees quit; the department was apparently never re-staffed. In its court filings responding to the sexual harassment lawsuits, the company claims it “has always and continues to strictly prohibit its employees from engaging in any form of sexual harassment.” It’s common for companies like Tesla to delay cases as much as possible until complainants give up or agree to settlements or to sign NDAs. Rolling Stone notes a trial for the active sexual harassment lawsuit could come as late as 2024.
It’s already been nearly a year since the suit was filed as Tesla lawyers continue to stall in their motion to dismiss the case. In the span of that year, the “69" memes from Musk have been relentless—and certainly encourage the factory’s male employees to keep doing what they’re doing.