Tesla has fired an engineer who levied accusations of sexual harassment and unfair treatment against it. Her attorney states that the automaker was retaliating because she took the lawsuit public and is trying to make an example out of her.
Engineer accuses Tesla of discrimination
AJ Vandermeyden told The Guardian earlier this year that her male coworkers catcall her and taunt her, and Tesla never did anything about it despite her complaints. She also accused the company of paying her less than her male coworkers.
Tesla confirmed to the media outlet that it had terminated Vandermeyden’s employment, but in a statement, the company said she had been “repeatedly receiving special treatment at the expense of others.” The company also that despite all it had done, she “chose to pursue a miscarriage of justice by suing Tesla and falsely attacking our company in the press.”
The company said it had investigated Vandermeyden’s accusations and was “absolutely convinced” that they were “illegitimate.”
The case against Tesla
Vandermeyden took the job at Tesla in 2013, and she alleges that the company didn’t pay her as much as it paid the male engineers who did the same work. She had taken over their work in general assembly where she worked as a manufacturing engineer. She also alleges that she spoke up about flaws with the quality testing process that male engineers and her supervisors had all missed. She claims that even though she fixed the problem they all missed, men were promoted over her.
She also accuses the company of denying other female engineers promotions even though they were “equally or more qualified” than their male colleagues. The lawsuit also alleges that in order to receive a promotion, her supervisors demanded from her a performance standard that was higher than what male engineers were expected to do and even unattainable.
Vandermeyden also said her male coworkers subjected her to “unwelcome and pervasive harassment” while she was out on the factory floor, including “inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls” and other such behavior.
Unfortunately, her experiences don’t appear to be uncommon among women who work at major tech companies. A former Uber engineer complained earlier this year about a hostile work environment where she said she received similar treatment. Facebook also battled claims of bias against female coders last month.
Tesla accused of retaliation
Therese Lawless, who represents the engineer, said that by firing her and by the justification it gave for terminating her employment, the company has proven their case. She called it “clear retaliation” and suggested that someone is trying to make an example out of her client.
“Somebody is trying to instill in employees that when they speak out about matters they are legally allowed to speak out about, they too will be fired,” she told The Guardian.
She now plans to file a formal complaint of retaliation on her client’s behalf. She noted that in California, it’s illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who assert their rights, including the right to equal pay for equal work.
A Tesla spokesperson said Vandermeyden was terminated for “behaving in what the evidence indicates is a fundamentally false and misleading manner” rather than in retaliation for bringing the lawsuit.
The engineer isn’t the only one to complain about working conditions at the company’s factory. Recently, several workers had reported that it was unsafe and that many workers were injured on the job. Some even said that their injuries were belittled if they did complain and their pay was cut if they had to be put on light duty work, so they felt as if they were not allowed to speak up about such things. However, CEO Elon Musk defended the working conditions at their factory and said they had made a lot of improvements over the last year.