Working in a Tesla Factory Sounds Like a Nightmare

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 In an aerial view, Tesla cars sit parked in a lot at the Tesla factory on April 20, 2022 in Fremont, California.

In an aerial view, Tesla cars sit parked in a lot at the Tesla factory on April 20, 2022 in Fremont, California.
Photo: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Tesla has come under fire this summer due to lawsuits from employees alleging abusive environments to the feds finally catching up with Autopilot investigations to the usual confusing frat boy antics of Dear Leader Elon Musk.

An in-depth look from Rolling Stone at the sexual harassment allegedly experienced by seven women at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory argues that perhaps the sniggering, overtly sexual, high-school level jokes and ideas in Musk’s tweets and corporate actions are a tacit approval of a downright humiliating and terrifying workplace for, Black people, gay people and women:

Elon Musk is Tesla, and Tesla is Elon Musk. This has been true since the South African became CEO and wrested control of the electric-car company from its founders in 2008. The board is not forcing Musk’s hand. (It was Musk who decided Tesla would move its corporate HQ from California to Texas.) At times he can be so hands-on that he has overnighted at the Fremont, California, factory where the cars are manufactured. Musk’s tweets can make Tesla stock rise and fall. The personal and the corporate are inseparable.

This is not in dispute.

This summer was a busy one for Musk. He decided to buy and then decided not to buy Twitter. He fathered children Number Nine and Number 10 with a female executive at another of his companies. (Simultaneously, Musk’s father, Errol, admitted to having fathered a second child with his stepdaughter.) His third child disowned him. He denied concurrently that he broke up the marriage of the co-founder of Google and that he offered to buy a flight attendant a horse in exchange for an erotic massage.

Reporter Stephen Roderick at Stone went through court filings from both Tesla and the women suing the company, as well as spoke to five of the plaintiffs in his exhaustive research into the culture at Tesla. While Stone did give Tesla a chance to comment via the company’s lawyer, it only received a “no comment.” Tesla has not maintained a press office since 2020.

What Roderick found were truly harrowing tales of constant inappropriate comments and touching in a male-dominated workplace. Here’s how the first woman, Jessica Barraza, describes her breaking point after months of alleged sexual harassment:

One day, she alleges in the complaint, she scanned her badge and turned to leave, but a man had stepped up behind her and put his leg between her legs and rubbed his groin against her. She screamed. “What the fuck?” The stranger smiled. “Oh, my bad.” He disappeared into the factory. Barraza went back to her workstation, but started having a panic attack, she says. “She called me early that morning,” a Tesla co-worker who says she witnessed much of what Barraza endured tells me. “She was just completely distraught. She was just broken.”Barraza bolted the factory, and says she told her supervisor over the phone what happened. They told her to take her scheduled days off and they’d look into it. (According to Tesla’s filings, her supervisor and a co-worker dispute her account. Both say they offered to help her, and also told her she shouldn’t have left the factory without telling someone.) 

The stories from the women are pretty terrible, and all are backed up with affidavits from other who witnessed the abuse. Rolling Stone asked another plaintiff, Alisa Blickman, if she thought Musk’s behavior contributed to the environment of abuse:

I ask her if she thought Musk’s slavish devotion to frat-boy humor contributed to Tesla workers saying whatever they wanted to women.

“Of course,” she says. “There are people in that factory who see him as a god. If he talks like that, they know they can, too.”

There is no evidence suggesting that Musk knew about the alleged harassment going on at Tesla’s Fremont factory before the women filed their lawsuits. But for a guy who claims to be so hands-on, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have picked up on complaints about the allegedly pervasive culture. And if he didn’t know, why didn’t he know? 

Tesla has submitted its own affidavits to the country of these women’s accounts, but there is an undeniable consistency of the complaints by workers at Fremont. The entire report will leave you feeling gut-punched, but it’s well worth your time.

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