A judge upheld a Black former Tesla worker's racial discrimination claim but cut his payout from $137 million to $15 million

A judge upheld a Black former Tesla worker's racial discrimination claim but cut his payout from $137 million to $15 million
A Tesla Model 3 is assembled at the Fremont, California factory in 2018.Mason Trinca/The Washington Post
  • A jury awarded Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at Tesla, $137 million in October.
  • Diaz won his racial discrimination lawsuit but the judge lowered his damages to $15 million.

A judge has significantly slashed the payout of a man who sued Tesla, accusing it of racial discrimination.

Owen Diaz sued Tesla in 2017, alleging that while working as an elevator operator at the automaker's factory in Fremont, California, he was subjected to racist abuse.

A jury found in favor of Diaz in October and awarded him $137 million in damages.

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Judge William H. Orrick said in a court document seen by Insider that he had upheld the jury's verdict against Tesla, but reduced the total damages owed to Diaz to $15 million. He said he did so because he felt the size of the jury's award was "unconstitutionally large."

Although the judge has significantly reduced Diaz's payout, it's still a blow to Tesla, which argued that Diaz's damages should be reduced to $600,000.


Tesla is also the subject of a lawsuit from California's civil rights regulator accusing the company of widespread racial discrimination and harassment. Insider's Grace Kay and Áine Cain reported 46 lawsuits have been filed against Tesla, accusing it of a sexist and racist work culture over the last five years.

Diaz's attorney J. Bernard Alexander III told Reuters that Diaz plans to appeal against the judge's decision.

"The award of $15 million is substantial but does not come close to reflecting the harm caused to Mr. Diaz, or the reprehensibility of Tesla's conduct," Alexander told Reuters.

The reduction of Diaz's payout is not entirely unexpected. Legal experts told Insider in October the $137 million in damages would probably not survive judicial scrutiny.

Tesla and Alexander did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider for comment outside of normal working hours.