Tesla fires female engineer who lodged sexual harassment complaint

Dive Brief:

  • Tesla fired a female worker who went public with allegations of sexual harassment and pay inequity, The Guardian reports. AJ Vandermeyden, an engineer at the automotive and energy company, claimed that male coworkers taunted and catcalled her, and that the company ignored her complaints and underpaid her.
  • In a statement to The Guardian, the Tesla said it found Vandermeyden’s allegations were unmerited following an internal investigation, and that it had no choice but to fire her. A spokesperson said that even though Tesla had given her special treatment at the expense of others, she chose to publicly attack her employer.
  • Vandermeyden joined Tesla in 2013. As a manufacturing engineer, she oversaw male engineers who, she claims, were paid more than her. Vandermeyden also alleged that despite her accomplishments, which included correcting flaws in Tesla’s quality testing process for cars, male colleagues were offered positions over her. Her lawyer has called the firing a “clear retaliation.”

Dive Insight:

The story broke just over a week after Tesla replaced its VP of HR amid various other employee allegations concerning harassment, poor working conditions and pay issues. The company now joins Uber, Sterling Jewelers and other high-profile companies charged with condoning a culture rife with sexual misconduct in 2017.

At this preliminary point, Vandermeyden’s case seems to be retaliation. The company had no apparent reason to fire her, aside from its assertion that a “a neutral, third-party expert” investigated Vandermeyden’s claims and deemed them “unmerited,” according to The Guardian. Employees can claim wrongful termination when they haven’t violated any workplace policies or restrictions, and employers should keep that in mind.

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Workers at the electric automaker’s Fremont, CA, plant criticized the company for alleged safety violations (the company racked up 30 safety citations in five years) and alledgly forcing workers to put in excessively long hours to meet sales demands. The workers went on social media with their complaints, some calling for unionization.

Tesla, like Uber, has made personnel changes in response to such allegations. But staff replacements aren’t always the end-all solutioncultural overhauls might be necessary in these cases.