Two men and a woman have sued SolarCity, and its parent company, Tesla, alleging serious corporate misbehavior.
The former retail employees claim that SolarCity tacitly approved the creation of “fake sales accounts,” resulting in “unjustified bonuses” for some employees and the basis of an “unreasonably high valuation of SolarCity” for investors. The automaker acquired SolarCity in late 2016 for $2.6 billion.
In addition, the plaintiffs said they faced rampant harassment, discrimination, and inadequate overtime pay during their near-one-year tenure ending in mid-2017.
Tesla did not respond to Ars’ request for comment on Sunday, but did respond on Tuesday (see update below).
The lead plaintiff in the case, Andrew Staples, who is gay, also alleged that he was “repeatedly and continuously harassed” by a supervisor from another department, Grant Katzenellenbogen.
“Specifically, this supervising employee continuously harassed Plaintiff Staples by calling him things like ‘bitch,’ ‘pussy’ and ‘faggot,’” his lawyers wrote. “These comments were made to Staples on numerous different days throughout his employment.”
According to the civil lawsuit filed last Wednesday in San Diego County Superior Court, Staples reported the insults and the questionable corporate practices to various managers, including to CEO Elon Musk himself, who seemingly took no action.
Staples was then terminated from his position at the end of May 2017, which he believes was retaliation for his complaints.
Another man, Robert Ray, claims that he was subjected to age discrimination when he was fired—at the age of 59. The claims of the woman, Anquetta White, were not fully explained in court filings.
All three plaintiffs (Staples, Ray, and White) claim that when they attempted to inform management of these incidents, they were ultimately fired, which they argued contravened California’s whistleblower protection laws.
In addition, they claim that they were “not paid for all hours worked,” including unpaid overtime hours.
It is not clear whether these firings were related to a wave of 1,200 SolarCity job cuts in October 2017.
A person with knowledge of the lawsuit who used to work in the San Diego office said that “thousands” of bogus SolarCity accounts may have been created by supposedly requesting solar panels for homes that turned out not to exist. Sometimes, these faux deals would be a valid residence but with a fake property owner’s name—the real person did not intend to move ahead with solar panels.
This tactic allegedly resulted, this person said, in at millions of dollars in phantom revenue. He added that more than a dozen people reported the practice to the relevant human resources representatives, and CEO Elon Musk himself, who never replied. Ars granted anonymity as this person feared reprisal from Tesla.
This former San Diego employee also said that, despite working for a high-tech energy company, the SolarCity office, just south of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, operated more like a struggling startup, with electrical plugins that didn’t work, spotty office lighting, and even cutting back on sugar and creamer for the shared office coffee.
“Everything else behind the scenes was just crap,” he said.
According to Michael Beardsley, a former Tesla employee who said he was “witness” to much of the allegations outlined in the lawsuit, confirmed the ex-employees’ allegations. Beardsley, who is not named in the lawsuit, provided copies of emails that Staples sent to Tesla HR.
“I really appreciate you taking the time and effort,” Staples wrote on April 14, 2017. “I have voiced my concerns in the past to management, but I haven’t received a response and the seemingly unethical behavior by some on the team hasn’t changed. I can put up with a lot, but to have people that I’m mentoring become frustrated, and some who have come to me in tears over these issues and others disturbs me. I’m concerned that those who are truly putting in the effort and who are upstanding individuals are becoming disheartened.”
In addition, Beardsley explained, they were sent “incendiary pictures, memes and even pictures of female employees in their panties, etc.” It is not clear under what circumstances such pictures were taken or obtained….
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