Tesla Faces Sexual Harassment Charge From Female Engineer

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Update: The day after this story was posted, a Tesla spokesperson sent us a statement that we have added in full at the end of this article.

There has been a lot of coverage in the last day or so about the plan by SpaceX Technologies to launch a space tourism trip around the moon and back by the end of next year. Somewhat less widely covered was a filing of “pervasive harassment” charge against Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), the electric car company founded by Elon Musk, who is also the founder of SpaceX.

According to a report in The Guardian, the lawsuit was filed last fall and A.J. Vandermeyden, the woman who filed it, is still employed in Tesla’s purchasing department after leaving a position as a manufacturing engineer in the general assembly department. She alleges as well that after she raised her concerns about sexual harassment and unequal pay, “management told her that in order to advance her position, she needed to achieve a performance standard in the factory that was unattainable and not expected of male engineers.”

As well as making the harassment charge, Vandermeyden also has claimed that Tesla paid her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoted less qualified men and retaliated against her for raising concerns about quality testing of the company’s cars.

In an email to The Guardian, Tesla said:

[The company] understands the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace that is reflective of the communities we call home [and recognizes that] there is more we can do to promote diversity. As with any company with more than 30,000 employees, it is inevitable that there will be a small number of individuals who make claims against the company, but that does not mean those claims have merit.

The story follows hard on the heels of similar allegations from Susan Fowler, a former Uber employee, who went public a week ago and the sudden resignation of Uber’s senior vice president of engineering, Amit Singhal, on Monday. Singhal’s resignation was attributed to his failure to inform Uber there had been claims of sexual harassment against him while he was employed at Google.

Singhal left Google last year after an investigation indicated that the charges against him were “credible,” according to a report at Recode.

In a blog post earlier this month, a Tesla employee went public with complaints about safety, pay and mandatory overtime. Tesla’s Musk said that the employee, Jose Moran, was “paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW.” Musk also noted that when stock options in Tesla are included, employees are paid well above union-negotiated rates.

Vandermeyden raised some of the same issues as Moran, claiming the company denied her overtime pay, rest breaks and meal periods when she worked in sales.

She wants to continue working at Tesla and hopes her public comments won’t jeopardize her future with the company. Tesla, she told The Guardian, is a “revolutionary and innovative company.”

Tesla’s Statement
Tesla is committed to creating a positive workplace environment that is free of discrimination for all our employees. Ms. Vandermeyden joined Tesla in a sales position in 2013, and since then, despite having no formal engineering degree, she has sought and moved into successive engineering roles, beginning with her work in Tesla’s paint shop and eventually another role in General Assembly. Even after she made her complaints of alleged discrimination, she sought and was advanced into at least one other new role, evidence of the fact that Tesla is committed to rewarding hard work and talent, regardless of background. When Ms. Vandermeyden first brought her concerns to us over a year ago, we immediately retained a neutral third party, Anne Hilbert of EMC2Law, to investigate her claims so that, if warranted, we could take appropriate action to address the issues she raised. After an exhaustive review of the facts, the independent investigator determined that Ms. Vandermeyden’s “claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated.” Without this context, the story presented in the original article is misleading.