US judge in Tesla race bias lawsuit denies plaintiff’s bid for mistrial
By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – A Black former Tesla Inc factory worker suing the electric-vehicle maker for race discrimination lost his bid for a mistrial on Friday after claiming the company’s lawyers violated court rules by trying to turn jurors against him.
Lawyers for plaintiff Owen Diaz filed a motion for a mistrial in San Francisco federal court shortly before the start of the final day in a week-long trial where a jury is considering how much Tesla must pay to Diaz for subjecting him to racial slurs, threats and other incidents.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick denied the motion during a pretrial conference, saying Diaz had not shown that comments by Tesla’s lawyers had prejudiced the jury. Orrick also warned Diaz’s lawyers against making “ad hominem attacks” on the company’s legal team.
A different jury in 2021 found Tesla liable for discrimination, which Orrick had upheld while finding that the $137 million the jury had awarded in damages was excessive.
Diaz rejected a lowered award of $15 million and opted for a new trial on damages. Orrick barred the introduction of any new evidence or testimony at the retrial, which kicked off on Monday.
Diaz’s lawyers on Friday said Tesla’s legal team improperly questioned him and other witnesses during this week’s trial about alleged incidents where Diaz called a coworker a “dumb Mexican” and asked a female employee if she dated Black men.
Diaz denied making those comments, and his lawyers claimed that Tesla had violated Orrick’s order prohibiting new evidence.
But Orrick agreed with Tesla’s lawyers that the questioning of Diaz was proper because his alleged comments were related to incidents that were discussed during the 2021 trial.
The jury could render a verdict as soon as Friday afternoon. Tesla is likely to challenge any verdict awarding damages to Diaz.
Tesla has said it does not tolerate discrimination and takes complaints by workers seriously.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis)