A former Tesla executive who was charged with auditing the electric car maker’s response to workplace injuries claimed in a lawsuit that he was fired by the company for reporting “unsafe and unhealthy” working conditions at the Fremont plant.
Tesla on Monday fired back, saying the ex-executive was canned for “bullying,” “harassing workplace behavior” and “inappropriate comments.”
Carlos Ramirez said in his suit that he worked at Tesla from February to June of last year as a director of environmental, health, safety and sustainability before the company sent him packing.
Ramirez alleged that an audit of Tesla’s incident-response system at the factory “revealed numerous instances of lack of treatment of Tesla employees that suffered workplace injuries.” He further claimed that Tesla improperly classified workplace injuries to avoid treating the workers and reporting the injuries.
After a May 2017 meeting of employees in which Ramirez revealed the purportedly unsafe and unhealthy conditions, his supervisor told him to “watch his back” and said he had made the supervisor and others “look like fools,” according to the lawsuit filed June 6 in Alameda County Superior Court.
Throughout his time at Tesla, Ramirez said in his lawsuit that he kept telling the company about problematic workplace conditions.
Among the problems he brought to light beyond treatment of injured workers were chemical exposures, spills and fires; accumulation of oil and waste, noncompliance with permits; and discrepancies and inaccuracies in reported injury rates, said the lawsuit, first reported by transportation blog Jalopnik.
In an emailed statement Tesla, denied firing Ramirez for his complaints about factory conditions. The company did not directly respond to questions about the safety-related allegations in Ramirez’ suit. It has defended its workplace-safety record in the past.
“Mr. Ramirez was terminated because after an extensive investigation, it was clear that he had engaged over and over again in harassing workplace behavior and used extremely inappropriate language that violated any reasonable standard,” the Palo Alto firm led by CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.
“We conducted our investigation after we received an onslaught of complaints about Mr. Ramirez’s behavior, with nearly a dozen different employees stating that he engaged in clear bullying, sought to intimidate his colleagues, and repeatedly made inappropriate comments about women,” Tesla said.
A worker reporting to Ramirez said he made inappropriate comments to women, including calling them “hun,” . A female employee told her manager she never wanted to interact with Ramirez again after he used “abrasive” language with her, Tesla said. A worker reporting directly to Ramirez “said that he regularly mistreated his team, and that she felt he bullied team members and others with abusive remarks,” according to Tesla. The company also alleged that a number of workers said they had feared complaining about Ramirez because they’d seen him engage in intimidation and worried he’d retaliate against them.
Ramirez’ lawyer Mark Le Clerc declined to comment on Tesla’s allegations about his client.
The former executive’s lawsuit follows an explosive exposé by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal magazine, which asserted that “Tesla has failed to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated reports, making the company’s injury numbers look better than they actually are.”
Musk called Reveal’s report “carefully constructed propaganda” and said Tesla’s injury rate at the factory was half what it was when the plant was a joint venture between Toyota and GM.