Diaz was awarded $136.9 million in damages after a the jury decided in his favor. But the following month, Tesla filed a request for a new trial. But before ruling on whether to allow that new trial to proceed, US District Judge William Orrick gave Diaz the option to accept a greatly reduced sum of $15 million in damages, saying in court documents that the original damages award was “excessive” after reviewing how long Diaz was employed at the factory and “the lack of physical illness or injury.”
Diaz had worked as a contractor with Tesla for nine months. He has been working as a bus driver in Oakland since he left the company.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Diaz filed their formal response to the judge’s offer, rejecting the $15 million. The filing is widely expected to result in a new trial.
“The 7th amendment to the US Constitution requires that ‘no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States,'” Lawrence Organ, Diaz’s attorney told CNN in a statement Wednesday. “Yet our judicial system favors requests by corporate defendants to re-examine jury verdicts in civil rights cases. This is part of a systemic bias that under-values the suffering African Americans endure in the workplace.”
The damages awarded by the jury included $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages. The case was decided by an eight-person jury in San Francisco which included one Black juror, according to Organ.
“In rejecting the court’s excessive reduction by asking for a new trial, Mr. Diaz is again asking a jury of his peers to evaluate what Tesla did to him and to provide just compensation for the torrent of racist slurs that was directed at him,” Organ said.
“In addition, Mr. Diaz seeks to restore a fair and just punitive damages award that will punish and deter Tesla for the racist conduct to which Mr. Diaz was subjected and to prevent future harassment from occurring.”
CNN has reached out to Tesla for comment but has not heard back.
“We do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect,” Valerie Capers Workman, then Tesla’s vice president, people, wrote in the blog post.
“But we have come a long way from 5 years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns.”
Workman, who is Black, wrote that there were no witnesses to Diaz being called the n-word. And she claimed that although witnesses testified that they “regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor,” she said “that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues.”
Workman said all three times Diaz made complaints about harassment, “Tesla stepped in and made sure “responsive and timely action” was taken by the staffing agencies,” resulting in two contractors being fired and one who had drawn a racially insensitive cartoon being suspended.
“But he didn’t make any complaints about the n-word until after he was not hired full-time by Tesla — and after he hired an attorney,” Workman’s blog post said.
Tesla never introduced proof of those contractors’ dismissals in court or during the discovery process, Organ said, and the Tesla supervisor who was accused of harassing Diaz was not dismissed. Tesla has not commented beyond Workman’s statement.
Workman left Tesla in January of this year.
Prior claims of being a racially hostile workplace
Last May Melvin Berry, a former Tesla employee, won a $1 million judgment after an arbitrator found that he was called racial slurs by supervisors and subjected to other racially hostile conduct.
Because of the terms of employment at Tesla, Berry was not allowed to bring a court case as Diaz was able to, but had to proceed through arbitration. Organ also represented Berry.
Tesla now requires all contractors working at the plant to also agree to have disputes settled by arbitration rather than in court, Organ said.
CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this report.