Employers in Texas and around the country that fail to protect their workers against sexual harassment can be held accountable in civil court, and the publicity these cases attract can sour consumers and sully brand names. The electric carmaker Tesla is known for building innovative and extremely capable vehicles, but the California-based company is also developing a reputation for ignoring reports of discrimination and harassment filed by its workers.
A recent sexual harassment claim involving Tesla was filed on Nov. 18 by a 38-year-old woman who worked as a production associate at the company’s manufacturing plant in Fremont. During her three years with the company, the woman claims that she was subjected to catcalls and unwelcome and inappropriate touching on a daily basis. She says that she decided to take legal action when she reported being physically accosted by a male coworker and Tesla failed to respond. According to the woman, Tesla’s human resources department even disabled the email address that workers had been given to report harassment. She is seeking punitive and compensatory damages for alleged violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The woman filed her lawsuit less than two months after a jury in California ordered Tesla to pay one of its former workers almost $137 million to compensate him for the racial harassment he suffered while on the job. Tesla is seeking to overturn the verdict. The company admits that the man was subjected to racial slurs and little was done to stop the abuse, but it believes he is entitled to no more than $600,000.
A proactive approach
Employers often find themselves in court answering accusations of sexual harassment or discrimination because the procedures they had in place to prevent this kind of behavior were inadequate. Companies that wish to avoid costly and embarrassing litigation should take a more proactive approach. They should provide their workers with comprehensive training and clear boundaries, and they should ensure that the managers or supervisors tasked with handling reports of inappropriate and unwelcome behavior take their duties seriously.