Musk sent an email in May that encouraged Tesla employees to be
have taken Musk's email to mean that his employees should
forgive racist abuse from coworkers.
released Musk's May 31 email in response to a
Monday that alleges racial discrimination and harassment at the
company. The email, titled "Doing the right thing," is a lengthy
directive from Musk about how Tesla workers should treat each
fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes,
it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology,"
Musk wrote in part of the email. "If you are part of a less
represented group, you don't get a free pass on being a jerk
the email is not specific about what it means to be a "jerk,"
Musk says employees should never "intentionally allow someone to
feel excluded, uncomfortable or unfairly treated." He also notes
that, "Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone
might feel who is part of an historically less represented
added that Tesla has encountered a few cases in which people
from underrepresented groups have been promoted over white
colleagues but they nonetheless sued Tesla for discrimination,
which Musk called "obviously not cool."
of the email appeared Monday in
a civil lawsuit
alleges racial discrimination and harassment at the company. A
day later, Tesla posted the entire email on
part of a statement refuting the lawsuit's claims.
lawsuit was filed by Marcus Vaughn, who is black, and who worked
at a Tesla production factory in California.
claimed that coworkers and supervisors regularly called him the
n-word, and that the company -- including Musk -- was notified
and did nothing to stop it. He also claimed he was fired last
month for "not having a positive attitude."
excerpted email appears several pages into the complaint, where
it is cited as an example of how Vaughn claimed Tesla allowed
racial harassment to happen.
light of CEO Musk's message to employees that racist epithets
can be directed 'unintentionally' and that it is 'important to
be thick-skinned,' it is not surprising that the Tesla factory
has become a hotbed for racist behavior," the lawsuit said.
swiftly denied both the merits of the complaint and that
characterization of Musk's email.
a blog post Tuesday, the company called the document a "hotbed
of misinformation" and said Vaughn was a temporary worker who
left after his contract ended. He contacted Musk while he worked
there but did not mention racial discrimination, Tesla said.
company added that it investigated "conflicting accusations and
counter-accusations" between black and Hispanic people who
worked on or near Vaughn's team, and ultimately fired three
attorney had no immediate comment. A Tesla spokesperson did not
respond to a request.
said Musk's email was intended to let workers know that "no one
should feel excluded, uncomfortable, or unfairly treated."
blog post drew ire from Richard Lawler, a senior news editor at
people the responsibility of being 'thick-skinned' is labor they
did not ask for," Lawler tweeted at Musk.
shot back: "Do you really believe that someone's life should be
ruined if they make a single offensive comment for which they
then sincerely apologize?"
you really believe that someone's life should be ruined if
they make a single offensive comment for which they then
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November
Wednesday, Lawler tweeted that he is "deeply interested in these
stories of people who have had their lives ruined exclusively
because a coworker didn't accept their apology for the only
offensive comment they ever made."
deeply interested in these stories of people who have had
their lives ruined exclusively because a coworker didn't
accept their apology for the only offensive comment they
— Richard Lawler (@rjcc) November
should recognize that encouraging an employee on a temporary
contract to be 'thick-skinned' puts them in a nearly untenable
position," Lawler told CNNMoney. "A good policy would
investigate the limitless other options available for dealing
with harassment or offensive behavior in the workplace."
Vaughn case, and the ensuing controversy, is not the first time
Tesla has been accused of being hostile toward black workers.
lawsuits have been filed in recent months
describe a toxic culture at the plant in Fremont, California,
where Tesla makes its electric cars and where about 10,000
people work. Three employees claimed that the environment was so
bad as to be "straight from the Jim Crow era."
company at the time told CNN Tech that while it takes all
complaints seriously, "in the history of Tesla, there has never
been a single proven case of discrimination against the company.
Tech reporter Sara O'Brien contributed to this report.