Tesla has been unsuccessful in its motion for arbitration into sexual harassment claims made by former employee Jessica Barraza, meaning the case will now go to court.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kaus made the decision on Monday. He stated that Tesla made no indication to her that “she would have to agree to arbitrate employment claims and give up her right to a jury trial” when she was offered the factory job.
Barraza filed a lawsuit against Tesla in November 2021. She claims that the electric car manufacturer fosters a climate of sexual harassment and says co-workers referred to her as having a “Coke bottle figure” and an “onion booty,” alleging that she experienced “nightmarish conditions” on the factory floor. In one case, she alleges that a male co-worker picked her up and placed her next to him while pressing into her chest.
“Basically, Barraza was ambushed,” Judge Kaus said. “She had gone through extensive pre-employment activities, had been offered a job, signed multiple forms and had left her previous employment in reliance on [a job] offer, all without Tesla giving any indication that she would have to agree to arbitrate employment claims and give up her right to a jury trial.”
In the months after Barraza sued Tesla, six other women have sued the carmaker, also alleging sexual harassment. Tesla frequently leans on arbitration clauses in lawsuits against it to try and ensure workplace disputes are settled by private arbitrators and do not become public knowledge, The Washington Post reports.
“This is a victory for public accountability,” said partner at Rudy Exelrod Zieff & Lowe, David A. Low, who is representing Barraza. “Because of this ruling, Tesla will not be able to hide behind the closed doors of confidential arbitration. Instead, Tesla will be judged by a jury of Ms. Barraza’s peers in a public courtroom.”