Tesla, Uber rocked by allegations of racism, sexual assault

Tesla and Uber are under fire–again. The former is accused of being “a hotbed for racist behavior”, while Uber passengers allege that they were sexually assaulted by drivers.


The claims against Uber are shocking, but sadly, they may not surprise anyone who’s familiar with the company’s recent troubles. The past year in particular has been a rough one for Uber: awful headlines about harassment of female and LGBT employees, illegal operations, and theft of a competitor’s trade secrets resulted in the resignation of controversial bro/CEO Travis Kalanick.

But Kalanick’s departure hasn’t fixed much at the company. A new lawsuit filed by Uber passengers in California includes allegations of sexual assault and harassment:

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California on Tuesday, is on behalf of women passengers who experienced “rape, sexual assault, physical violence or gender-motivated harassment” by Uber drivers. Those who feel they may have suffered any of these crimes can turn to uber laws in texas or wherever they are located to see if they need to file a lawsuit against uber.

Two anonymous plaintiffs who were assaulted by Uber drivers filed the lawsuit. The suit claims that this isn’t a case of “rogue” drivers, but that Uber has created a system that allows for “bad actors to gain access to vulnerable victims.”…

“On notice of the magnitude of the number of passengers who have experienced sexual harassment and gender-based violence, Uber should have made drastic changes to the way that it screens and monitors drivers, as well as advancing safety measures on its app and in vehicles, and disclosed the truth to consumers about its insurance coverage during rides,” the lawsuit says.

“Instead, over the last seven years, Uber has done everything possible to continue using low-cost, woefully inadequate background checks on drivers and has failed to monitor drivers for any violent or inappropriate conduct after they are hired. Nothing meaningful has been done to make rides safer for passengers-especially women.”

Stay tuned to see how Uber and its new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, respond.


The claims against Tesla are worse, and if substantiated, they could have serious consequences for the electric car manufacturer.

I’m not just talking about the fines that might levied against Tesla–though those could lighten the company’s savings considerably. Tesla also has to worry about its image.

Unlike Uber, which is viewed with suspicion by many (remember the #DeleteUber campaign?), Tesla is beloved, and as a result, it’s avoided a good deal of negative press.

For example, CEO Elon Musk sat on one of president Trump’s advisory boards, and while other folks on those boards were sharply criticized, Musk–and by extension, Tesla–were given a pass. The company has also been accused of homophobia and sexism, but so far, blowback seems to have been minimal.

In the Weinstein-Moore-Spacey Era (which is what I’m calling it now), the bar for proper conduct may be much higher. A pending lawsuit, which could balloon into a class-action case, might be too much for anyone but fanboys to ignore. Bloomberg has the story:

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Marcus Vaughn, who worked in the Fremont factory from April 23 to Oct. 31. Vaughn alleged that employees and supervisors regularly used the “N word” around him and other black colleagues. Vaughn said he complained in writing to human resources and Musk and was terminated in late October for “not having a positive attitude.”

Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Will consumers finally become as wary of Tesla as they are of Uber? Maybe, though in the wake of these allegations, Tesla is doing something that Uber rarely did: it’s speaking out quickly and forcefully.

Tesla is absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind. When we hear complaints, we take them very seriously, investigate thoroughly and, if proven to be true, take immediate action…

Regarding yesterday’s lawsuit, several months ago we had already investigated disappointing behavior involving a group of individuals who worked on or near Marcus Vaughn’s team. At the time, our investigation identified a number of conflicting accusations and counter-accusations between several African-American and Hispanic individuals, alleging use of racial language, including the “n-word” and “w-word,” towards each other and a threat of violence. After a thorough investigation, immediate action was taken, which included terminating the employment of three of the individuals.

We believe this was the fair and just response to the facts that we learned. There will be further action as necessary, including parting ways with anyone whose behavior prevents Tesla from being a great place to work and making sure we do everything possible to stop bad behavior from happening in the first place. Our company has more than 33,000 employees, with over 10,000 in the Fremont factory alone, so it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct, but we will do our best to make it is as close to zero as possible.

Tesla goes on to refute some of the reporting around the case. The full post is worth a read.