Tesla loses bid to move California sexual harassment lawsuit into arbitration

·3 min read

A California judge has denied electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla’s motion for arbitration in a lawsuit accusing the company of fostering a workplace with “rampant” sexual harassment.

Jessica Barraza, who worked at Tesla’s Fremont facility, claimed in a lawsuit last November that she was subject to inappropriate touching, lewd comments and cat calling during her stint as a production associate at the factory.

She accused the company of allowing a “frat house” atmosphere.

“Tesla’s factory floor more resembles a crude, archaic construction site or frat house than a cutting-edge company in the heart of the progressive San Francisco Bay Area,” Ms Barazza’s mid-November lawsuit claimed.

“The pervasive culture of sexual harassment, which includes a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior, including frequent groping on the factory floor, is known to supervisors and managers and often perpetrated by them,” it said.

Although she signed an arbitration agreement with Tesla which terminates her rights to sue, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kaus moved to allow the suit to continue in court on Monday, Bloomberg reported.

Ms Barazza claimed she did not know what arbitration was or realise she was giving up her right to a jury trial at the time.

She said the arbitration provision should not be enforced since “it is both procedurally and substantively unconscionable”.

“These agreements have no arbitration provision and state in effect that venue for any action will be Santa Clara County state courts or the Northern District of California,” said the order that denied Tesla’s motion for arbitration.

While US president Joe Biden signed into effect a bill in March that ended forced arbitration in sexual assault cases, this did not apply to the lawsuit against Tesla as the case had begun before the bill became law.

“This is a victory for public accountability. Because of this ruling, Tesla will not be able to hide behind the closed doors of confidential arbitration. Instead, Tesla will be judged by a jury of Ms Barraza’s peers in a public courtroom,” said David Lowe, Barraza’s attorney, in a statement.

The latest ruling comes as Tesla chief Elon Musk himself faces sexual misconduct allegations, as reported by Insider.

The billionaire has strongly denied the allegations.

The business news outlet reported that Mr Musk paid a flight attendant $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct claim against him.

Insider reported that the attendant accused Mr Musk of exposing himself to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offering to buy her a horse if she gave him an erotic massage.

The Tesla and SpaceX boss rejected the allegations as “utterly untrue”, adding “it never happened” and also joked that the reports should be dubbed “Elongate”.

“The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens - this is their standard (despicable) playbook - but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech. And, for the record, those wild accusations are utterly untrue,” he said in a series of posts on Twitter.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent.