US District Judge Lucy Koh, in San Jose, California, has ruled that Tesla must defend itself at a trial over worker abuses at its California assembly plant. The class action lawsuit was filed in 2016 by Gregor Lesnik, from Slovenia, and Stjepan Papes, from Croatia, on behalf of foreign workers covered by B-1 visas. The plaintiffs can now seek documents and witnesses to build their case.
Tesla is facing allegations it knew foreign workers at its plant worked long shifts that violated forced labor laws and were threatened with deportation if they reported an injury. The judge dismissed most of the seven claims against Tesla, but allowed two claims to remain. The claims she dismissed alleged violations of the False Claims Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The judge also denied motions to dismiss from Tesla subcontractors Eisenmann Corp and ISM Vuzem.
According to the lawsuit, both Lesnik and Papes were hired by ISM Vuzem and sent to the US on a B-1 visa to work at Tesla’s factory in Fremont. They allege that they worked 10 to 12 hours a day for pay that was well below minimum wage. They also allege that foreign workers were threatened with deportation or reduced pay if they reported injuries or became ill. The judge rejected arguments that Tesla and Eisenmann are not liable for abuses by ISM Vuzem due to the fact that they benefitted financially from ISM Vuzem’s actions.
Numerous safety complaints have been brought by Tesla workers over the years. Earlier this year, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health began an investigation into factory conditions after reports emerged that Tesla was not reporting workplace injuries accurately, as required by law. The company is also facing additional lawsuits alleging racial discrimination and harassment at the Fremont plant.