Tesla Sued for Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination—A Silicon Valley Trend?

When you think of Tesla the words “progressive”, “Elon Musk”, “battery-powered”, or “autonomous”, might come to mind. AJ Vandermeyden (33), a female engineer for the company, probably has other associations. She is currently alleging that her employer repeatedly ignored her sexual harassment complaints, paid her less than her male cohorts, promoted her less-qualified male colleagues instead of her, and subsequently retaliated against her. 

Here is what we know about her allegations: 

  1. Vandermeyden alleges that HR dismissed her repeated sexual harassment complaints because her male harasser was a “high performer.”
  2. Vandermeyden started working in the general assembly department in 2013. At the time, she was paid less than the male engineers, doing the same work, were paid. 
  3. Vandermeyden noticed inadequacies in the quality testing of the cars that weren’t noticed by her male colleagues or superiors. Though she developed a solution to fix the problem, she wasn’t given a promotion. Instead, her less-qualified male colleagues were.
  4. When Vandermeyden complained about not receiving a promotion, management told her that she was first required to achieve a performance standard. Not only was this an impossible standard to attain, it was not a requirement for her male colleagues.
  5. While on the factory floor, male colleagues said inappropriate things to, whistled to, and catcalled her and other female engineers. 
  6. One time, a female walked by and a group of 20 men began whistling at her from above. 
  7. Even though Vandermeyden received many positive performance evaluations, she was never given the opportunity to transfer to another department.   
  8. Vandermeyden alleges she was denied overtime pay, rest breaks, and lunch breaks. 

As a result of the discrimination and harassment, Vandermeyden claims to have suffered mental distress and humiliation.

Here is what we know about the company culture at Tesla:

  1. All Chief Exec positions at Tesla are held by men, and out of 30 VP positions, only two are held by women. 
  2. Oftentimes, Vandermeyden was the only woman in a meeting of 50 men.

Tesla denies Vandermeyden’s allegations of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation after a neutral third party made an extensive investigation. They claim to create a positive working environment, free of discrimination for all employees.

Do you think this is just another example of a male-dominated job culture in Silicon Valley? Or do you think the claims are more emotional?

*image by Paul Hudson

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