Updated: Tesla, Like Uber, Accused of Discrimination Against Female Engineers

A Tesla employee has publicly announced her lawsuit alleging unequal pay and promotion practices.

Tour Of Tesla Motors Inc.'s Gigafactory With Remarks By Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk And Co-Founder Jeffrey Straubel
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Update: Tesla responded to emails from The Drive with the following statement: "Tesla is committed to creating a positive workplace environment that is free of discrimination for all our employees. Ms. Vandermeyden joined Tesla in a sales position in 2013, and since then, despite having no formal engineering degree, she has sought and moved into successive engineering roles, beginning with her work in Tesla’s paint shop and eventually another role in General Assembly. Even after she made her complaints of alleged discrimination, she sought and was advanced into at least one other new role, evidence of the fact that Tesla is committed to rewarding hard work and talent, regardless of background. When Ms. Vandermeyden first brought her concerns to us over a year ago, we immediately retained a neutral third party, Anne Hilbert of EMC2Law, to investigate her claims so that, if warranted, we could take appropriate action to address the issues she raised. After an exhaustive review of the facts, the independent investigator determined that Ms. Vandermeyden’s “claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated.” Without this context, the story presented in the original article is misleading."

Another Silicon Valley darling faces allegations of discrimination in the workplace. Tesla engineer AJ Vandemeyden is suing her employer for discrimination and fostering a culture of "pervasive harassment" at the company's Fremont factory, according to The Guardian.

Paid Less For Doing the Same Work

Vandermeyden, 33, has been a Tesla employee since 2013. She started as a product sales specialist before being promoted to manufacturing engineer in 2015. Vandermeyden alleges she is paid less than the male counterparts whose work she took over, and was passed over for promotions even as less experienced or less qualified men advanced up company ranks.

Complaints to Human Resources about the discrimination and sexual harassment in the factory only made things worse, she claims. She was labeled a "whistleblower" for raising concerns that cars were "sold in a defective state," and managers told her that, in order to earn a promotion, she would have to achieve what she says were unattainable performance standards that weren't expected of male engineers. 

Less Career Advancement for Women

Despite positive performance reviews, those promotions never came, Vandermeyden alleges. Attempts to resolve discrimination and harassment within the company were met with resistance from managers, who dismissed her complaints because there were more pressing issues that needed to be addressed, she says. Vandermeyden eventually transferred departments and now works as a supply chain manager.

Tesla didn't respond to The Drive's immediate request for comment, but a spokesperson issued a statement to The Guardian that read, in part, that the company "understands the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace that is reflective of the communities we call home” and recognizes "there is more we can do to promote diversity."

"As with any company with more than 30,000 employees, it is inevitable that there will be a small number of individuals who make claims against the company, but that does not mean those claims have merit,” the statement added.

Discrimination Against Women Common in Silicon Valley

Harassment and discrimination claims from female engineers are common throughout Silicon Valley. Last week, a former Uber employee wrote on her blog an account of the "very strange" year working at the mobility company, which began with inappropriately sexual chats from her manager. 

Vandermeyden says she still believes in the company's mission and products, but is speaking out to bring awareness to these issues to instigate change.