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Ex-Tesla worker seeks third trial in race bias case after $3.2 mln award


A Tesla Supercharger is seen at a Buc-ee’s travel center in Crossville, Tennessee, U.S., March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

A Black former Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) factory worker has accused the electric automaker’s lawyers of “egregious misconduct” after a jury awarded him $3.2 million in a race bias case, and asked for a third trial so he can seek more money.

Lawyers for plaintiff Owen Diaz said in a filing in San Francisco federal court late Tuesday that Tesla’s lawyers asked improper questions, baselessly accused a witness of lying and made misleading statements during closing arguments in the five-day trial in March.

A different jury in 2021 had found Tesla liable for allegedly rampant racial harassment Diaz suffered at the company’s flagship Fremont, California, assembly plant and awarded him $137 million. A judge said that amount was excessive and ordered a second trial on damages after Diaz rejected a reduced award of $15 million.

The judge barred both sides from presenting new evidence or testimony at the retrial. But Diaz’s lawyers on Tuesday said Tesla’s legal team improperly questioned him and other witnesses about alleged incidents, which Diaz has denied took place, where he called a coworker a “dumb Mexican” and sexually harassed female employees, which did not come up in the 2021 trial.

“There is no other explanation for the extraordinary gap between the first and second jury’s damages verdicts,” his lawyers wrote.

Diaz also renewed a motion for a mistrial on similar grounds, which the judge had denied in the middle of the retrial.

Tesla in a separate filing moved to lower the award to about $1.6 million, saying the jury’s $3 million award of punitive damages meant to punish illegal conduct was too large in light of the $175,000 granted to Diaz for emotional distress. The U.S. Supreme Court has said punitive damages should be no more than nine times the amount of other damages.

Lawyers for Tesla and Diaz did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. A hearing on the motions is scheduled for July 19.

In his 2017 lawsuit, Diaz had accused Tesla of failing to act when he repeatedly complained to managers that coworkers frequently used racist slurs and scrawled swastikas, racist caricatures and epithets on walls and work areas.

Tesla has said it does not tolerate discrimination and takes complaints from workers seriously.

The company has also denied wrongdoing in a series of other lawsuits claiming employees at assembly plants and service centers have faced racial or sexual harassment.