Tesla 'ambushed' a worker with an arbitration clause, judge rules, so now it has to fight her sexual harassment claim in court

Tesla 'ambushed' a worker with an arbitration clause, judge rules, so now it has to fight her sexual harassment claim in court
A Tesla Model 3 is assembled at the company's Fremont, California factory in 2018.Mason Trinca/The Washington Post
  • A Tesla factory worker sued the company, saying she experienced "rampant sexual harassment."
  • Tesla tried to push the case into private arbitration.

A judge has dismissed an attempt by Tesla to push a sexual harassment lawsuit against it into private arbitration.

Judge Stephen Kaus rejected Tesla's request with a ruling Monday, as first reported by Bloomberg.

In the court filing seen by Insider, Kaus said an arbitration clause signed by Tesla employee Jessica Barraza was unenforceable because Tesla had asked her to sign it after she had already accepted a verbal job offer from the company and quit her previous job.

"Basically, Barraza was ambushed," Kaus wrote.

Barraza, who started working in Tesla's Fremont, California factory in October 2018, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company in November.


Arbitration is a dispute-resolution process that takes place outside court, meaning proceedings remain private. It's popular among companies for keeping employee disputes out of the public eye, especially if arbitration clauses form part of employees' employment contracts.

Insider's Grace Kay and Áine Cain reported Tesla has been the target of 46 discrimination and harassment lawsuits from workers over the past five years. Tesla moved to push the vast majority into arbitration, they reported.

"This is a victory for public accountability," said David Lowe, an attorney representing Barraza, in a press statement sent to Insider.

"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," he added.

Barraza said Tesla's Fremont factory was home to "rampant sexual harassment" and the company operated like a "frat house," according to her complaint, which was viewed by Insider. She said in the complaint she was frequently cat-called and that male coworkers would "brush up" against her or "unnecessarily touch her" on a weekly basis.


Barraza said she began to experience panic attacks in September 2021 after a male coworker sneaked up behind her as she was clocking out and positioned his leg between her legs, per the complaint. According to the lawsuit, Barraza's complaints about the incident were ignored.

"Ms Barraza saw other women experiencing the same environment, and witnesses will testify that they too experienced or observed the rampant sexual harassment at Tesla," her complaint says.

Tesla did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider for comment.

In a November interview with The Washington Post, Barraza said Tesla CEO Elon Musk helped foster the sexist environment inside the factory, citing a tweet from Musk in which he joked about starting a university with the acronym TITS. "That doesn't set a good example for the factory — it almost gives it like an … 'he's tweeting about it, it has to be okay,'" Barraza said.

Insider reported last week that Musk's company SpaceX paid a flight attendant $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct claim against Musk in 2018. Musk has denied the story is true.