• CRD Director Kevin Kish said Tesla's failure to comply shows 'a lack of respect' for employees' well-being
  • The CRD said in 2022 that there were 'hundreds' of racial bias-related complaints against the automaker
  • Tesla was recently ordered to pay a former employee $3.1 million in relation to a discrimination complaint

California's civil rights regulator has moved to force electric vehicle giant Tesla into complying with a subpoena over "allegations of unlawful harassment and discrimination" after the company allegedly declined to make available an individual with the most knowledge about the supposed workplace misconduct.

"The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) today announced taking legal action against Tesla over the company's failure to comply with a subpoena in connection to an ongoing, confidential investigation into allegations of unlawful harassment and discrimination," the regulator said in a press release Thursday.

CRD Director Kevin Kish said in a statement regarding the regulator's action that Tesla's "failure to comply" with the CRD's obligations to investigate allegations in the EV company's "workplace misconduct shows a lack of respect for the rights and well-being of their workers." He added that his office will not accept attempts to "obstruct" the probe. "Tesla is not above the law."

The CRD clarified that Thursday's filing with the Alameda County Superior Court was made "to compel Tesla" to comply with the investigation that was "running in parallel to the state's current lawsuit" and "separately filed allegations of employment discrimination impacting a group of Black Tesla workers."

The government agency went on to reveal that it subpoenaed Tesla on March 3 for an individual who had the most knowledge about the allegations but the automaker allegedly "failed to adequately respond, and, to date, has declined to make an individual available," as per TechCrunch.

Court documents showed that Tesla only responded to the CRD's subpoena until the end of March but the deposition of the individual was done through a Zoom meeting. Tesla reportedly objected to the deposition request, accusing the CRD of abusing its investigative subpoena power, according to TechCrunch.

The CRD is now seeking a court order to make Tesla comply with its requests and to have the automaker pay for attorney fees of $1,425.

The agency, which was previously called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), first sent a notice to Tesla in January last year, stating that it had grounds to file a civil complaint against the carmaker following "hundreds" of "undisclosed allegations of race discrimination and harassment at unspecified Tesla locations."

The government office said the notice was sent to the company after a series of complaints from both current and former workers in California, CNBC reported.

In September, the Elon Musk company countersued the CRD in a petition, accusing the regulator of utilizing "underground regulations" that allowed it to file the lawsuit without giving the carmaker a chance to settle, according to Reuters.

The state's Office of Administrative Law (OAL) denied Tesla's petition. No reason was provided at the time about why Tesla's petition was denied, as per Reuters.

However, sources with legal knowledge told TechCrunch at the time that reason for denial may be because Tesla should have submitted its petition even before the CRD's case began.

Earlier this month, Tesla was ordered by a San Francisco federal jury to pay a former Tesla employee at the company's assembly facility in Fremont, Owen Diaz, a total of $3,175,000. Diaz said he regularly heard racially motivated discriminatory slurs, including the N-word, in the workplace, according to CNN. He also said there was racist graffiti on the Fremont factory's bathrooms.

Late in March, a former general manager sued Tesla after the automaker allegedly fired him for defending himself against comments by a white supervisor. John Goode said that over the course of 2022, a white regional manager made offensive comments such as that Black people "are only good at sports and entertainment" and they "just scream and holler in church," according to Reuters.

In both cases, Tesla has denied wrongdoing. It also claimed that the CRD's lawsuit was "politically motivated." In response to the lawsuits, Musk said in a 2017 email to staff that "part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of an historically less represented group," Reuters reported. On the other hand, the Twitter CEO also reportedly said that minorities should be able to accept apologies and be "thick-skinned."

Aside from legal troubles alleging racial bias in the workplace, Tesla is also faced with several complaints from female workers who allege sexual harassment at the Fremont plant and another factory near Los Angeles.

The EV giant also faces a pair of complaints related to alleged wage theft and violations of worker safety at its massive Austin factory.

Tesla's primary vehicle factory in Fremont
In photo: Tesla's primary vehicle factory in Fremont. Reuters