Tesla is the latest big tech company to come under fire after an employee said she experienced sexual harassment while working at the company's main factory, according to a new lawsuit first reported by the Washington Post Friday.
The worker, Jessica Barraza, has been a production associate for three years at the Fremont, California factory where she said was cat-called nearly every day and touched inappropriately. Barraza's breaking point came Sept. 28, when she said a man snuck up behind her and put his legs between her thighs as she clocked in after a lunch break.
Barraza called out Tesla CEO and Austin transfer Elon Musk, saying he "doesn't set a good example for the factory" with suggestive tweets. Musk had pondered starting a new university that he'd title the Texas Institute of Technology & Science, alluding to a crude acronym. In a follow up tweet, Musk said "it will have epic merch."
Am thinking of starting new university:\nTexas Institute of Technology & Science— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1635484858
Filed in a state court Thursday, Tesla is being sued for "rampant sexual harassment" with claims of "nightmarish conditions" at the Fremont factory. Three current and former Tesla workers corroborated parts of Barraza's account in interviews with the Post, as they said they witnessed incidents or experienced sexual harassment themselves at Fremont facilities.
Barraza said co-workers regularly commented on her body, saying she has a "coke bottle figure", "onion booty", a "fat a--", and "fat a-- t--ties." She said human resources failed to address the issue when she came forward with September and October filings and said even the firstname.lastname@example.org email address was disabled for receiving filings.
"It almost gives it like an…. 'He's tweeting about it, it has to be okay,'" Barraza told the Post. "It's not fair to myself, to my family, to other women who are working there." Barraza is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
This lawsuit comes as Tesla prepares to move its headquarters to Austin and start production on the new Gigafactory. And it's the latest report drawing attention to the so called bro culture that's leading to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the EV industry. Earlier this month, electric automaker Rivian was sued by Laura Schwab, a former sales and marketing executive for the company. In a Medium post, Schwab described being excluded from crucial meetings despite her 20 years of auto experience.
"Never in my years in the auto industry had I experienced such blatant marginalization," Schwab wrote.
Another major sexual harassment claim in the tech industry deals with Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin. A September letter endorsed by 20 current and former employees describes the workplace as "toxic." The letter recounted groping, demeaning comments and inquiries on women's dating lives.
Already, reports show that there are signs of harassment and discrimination in Austin's growing tech scene. A recent KVUE survey of women in Austin's tech workspaces found 56% of respondents said they received unwanted advances from colleagues.
It can be difficult for tech workers to fight back, as many, including Tesla employees, are required to sign arbitration agreements so disputes stay out of court. Barraza said her agreement's "unconscionable" terms make it unenforceable. Currently, she's on doctor-ordered medical leave and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.