San Francisco– Electric vehicle company Tesla has been ordered by a federal court to pay nearly $137 million as damages to a former employee who allegedly encountered racist abuse, discrimination and harassment at the company’s plant in Fremont, California, media reports say.

Owen Diaz, an elevator operator who worked for the company between June 2015 and May 2016, sued the carmaker, alleging a hostile work environment and racial harassment, and said “daily racist epithets” such as the n-word were used in the factory, where his son, Demetric, also worked, the Washington Post reported.

The initial suit by Diaz, who is Black, alleged that workers encountered a scene “straight from the Jim Crow era”, where workers were subjected to frequent racist harassment and supervisors took no action.

“It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people,” Diaz’s lawyer Lawrence Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

The jury has also asked Tesla to pay an additional $6.9 million for causing Diaz emotional distress.

“It took four long years to get to this point. It’s like a big weight has been pulled off my shoulders,” added Diaz.

Diaz said a supervisor and other colleagues repeatedly referred to him using racial slurs.

He added that employees had drawn swastikas and scratched a racial epithet in a bathroom stall and left drawings of derogatory caricatures of Black children around the factory. Despite repeated complaints, the company did little to address the behaviour, he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, in an internal email late on Monday that the company subsequently published in a blog post on its website downplayed the allegations in the lawsuit.

“Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff and nextSource. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016,” read the blog post titled “Regarding Today’s Jury Verdict”.

“In addition to Diaz, three other witnesses (all non-Tesla contract employees) testified at trial that they regularly heard racial slurs (including the n-word) on the Fremont factory floor.

“While they all agreed that the use of the n-word was not appropriate in the workplace, they also agreed that most of the time they thought the language was used in a ‘friendly’ manner and usually by African-American colleagues,” Workman wrote.

Diaz sued Tesla alongside his son and another Black former employee, but only the elder Diaz’s claims made it to trial. It was not immediately clear whether Tesla planned to appeal the decision, the Post said. (IANS)