A Black, gay woman is suing Tesla for harassment, accusing it of failing to act against a coworker who repeatedly called her the N-word and assaulted her

A Black, gay woman is suing Tesla for harassment, accusing it of failing to act against a coworker who repeatedly called her the N-word and assaulted her
A Tesla Model 3 is assembled at the Fremont, California factory in 2018.Mason Trinca/The Washington Post
  • Former Tesla factory worker Kaylen Barker filed a lawsuit against the company on Tuesday.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Barker suffered racist abuse and a physical assault from a coworker.

A woman who made and inspected brake parts for Tesla from February to October 2021 is suing the company, alleging that she suffered racial abuse and a physical assault while working there.

Kaylen Barker filed her suit against Tesla and staffing company Staffmark Tuesday. Barker, who is a Black, gay woman, says in the suit Tesla failed to address racist abuse directed towards her by a coworker and that it retaliated against her when she tried to report the abuse.

"I was violated physically, mentally, and emotionally because I am an African American lesbian," Barker said in a statement provided to Insider via her attorney.

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Barker's suit alleges that one of her coworkers — named as Joanne in the suit — started directing racist abuse at her after Barker gained a promotion, including muttering the N-word under her breath as Barker walked by.

Barker's suit claims that she repeatedly flagged Joanne's behavior to HR but was never notified of any action against Joanne.


The suit alleges that in September, after Barker asked Joanne to step back from some machinery for safety reasons, Joanne called Barker the N-word and threw a hot grinding tool at her. She said that the tool hit her in the thigh.

Barker reported the incident to HR and Joanne was fired but the suit claims Tesla rehired Joanne two weeks later.

The suit also says HR informed Barker shortly after the incident that she was under investigation.

In mid-September, the suit says Tesla HR started summoning Barker for meetings on a "near-daily basis" and demanding she sign a document stating she had been "insubordinate." Following these meetings, Barker would be sent home for the afternoon, meaning she would lose out on roughly five hours of pay.

Barker's suit says she was terminated on October 29. According to the lawsuit, Tesla withheld five of Barker's paychecks from her final months at the factory.


Tesla and Staffmark did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider.

Barker is being represented by J. Bernard Alexander, III, the same attorney who represented Owen Diaz, a former Tesla elevator operator who successfully sued the company for racial harassment in October 2021. A jury ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $137 million in damages, although the company is unlikely to pay the entire sum.

In response to the verdict, Tesla's then head of HR Valerie Capers Workman said in a blog post the company had come a long way since Diaz had worked there.

"The Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked in the Fremont factory) is not the same as the Tesla of today," Workman wrote.

Tesla was ordered to pay a Black former worker called Melvin Berry $1 million in August 2021. Berry said supervisors called him the N-word.