FREMONT, Calif. (CN) - DeWitt Lambert thought he’d found the “brighter future” he was seeking in California when Tesla's Fremont factory hired him – but that was before his supervisors subjected him to racial and sexual harassment and threats of violence, he claims in court. Even worse, he says, Tesla punished him for complaining about it.
"This was my dream job and it turned into a nightmare," Lambert said in a Monday statement. "When I began working at Tesla I was happier than I've ever been. Now, I've experienced discrimination worse than anything I experienced growing up in Alabama and I'm scared for my safety every evening when I leave the plant."
"We all thought that as Americans we had moved passed this, but clearly we haven't and clearly corporate America wants to be able to do whatever it wants," Larry Organ, an attorney with the California Civil Rights Law Group who represents Lambert, said in an interview Tuesday.
Lambert, who is African-American and an electrician by trade, outlines his history with the company in his 21-page lawsuit. He moved to California from Alabama in 2012 and began working at the Tesla factory, building electric cars on a production line, three years later.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday, goes on to detail how 44-year-old Lambert’s 20-something coworkers began calling him "nigger" a month into the job, and sexually harassing him based on "racial and sexual stereotypes of African American males." They inserted a drill gun into his buttocks while he was bending over, and made multiple comments about the size of his penis, he says.
Coworkers also recorded lewd and racist videos on his phone, according to Lambert, including one that was laced liberally with the n-word and described cutting Lambert into pieces and sending his body parts to his family.
Lambert says Tesla's HR department ignored his complaints. Instead, the high-tech electric car company promoted Lambert's harassers, who then supervised him on the line, according to the complaint.
Eventually, Tesla transferred Lambert to another line, but he claims his coworkers were intent on getting him fired and the harassment continued. A supervisor reported him for eating a candy bar on the production floor, even though employees had passed around a box of donuts without incident a few days before, he says. Another coworker allegedly reported Lambert for posting a photo on Facebook of himself inside the plant, a breach of company policy. Lambert received a final written warning over the incident, while other employees who posted similar photos online faced no consequences, he says.
Worse, Lambert says, Tesla retaliated against him for complaining about his coworkers' behavior. The company refused to promote him, falsely accused him of threatening his coworkers and using profanity in the workplace, and investigated him "for conduct in the distant past," according to the complaint.
"I asked for help from Tesla’s management and it never came,” Lambert said in the statement.
Tesla, however, says that Lambert fabricated the complaints against his coworkers to save his job.
According to a company spokesperson, Lambert got into an argument with a coworker in April 2016 and threatened him with violence. Another employee filmed the incident, and Lambert thought that they had turned the video over to HR to get him fired, though they never did.