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Tesla not entitled to more info about race bias probe, Calif. agency says

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) -A California civil rights agency suing Tesla Inc over alleged widespread race bias at its flagship assembly plant on Tuesday asked a judge to narrow the scope of his tentative ruling requiring the agency to provide more details about the probe it conducted prior to filing the lawsuit.

Lawyers from the state's Civil Rights Department urged Judge Evelio Grillo during a court hearing in Oakland to limit a tentative ruling he issued on Monday requesting more information.

California state judges typically issue tentative rulings ahead of hearings, but can make changes to those rulings when issuing final decisions. Grillo said he would issue a final ruling in the next few days.

California law requires the civil rights department to investigate discrimination complaints by workers before suing employers. If the agency did not adequately probe certain claims against Tesla before suing, the electric carmaker could seek to have them removed from the case.

The agency claims that Tesla's Fremont, California, plant is a racially segregated workplace where Black employees have been harassed and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline and pay. Tesla has denied the allegations and said the lawsuit was politically motivated.

Sirithon Thanasombat, a lawyer for the department, told Grillo on Tuesday that courts only have the power to determine whether an investigation took place and not to inquire into the details or sufficiency of an investigation.

Tesla’s lawyer, Thomas Hill, countered that some level of detail is required to make that determination.

“Our defense with regard to at least some of the claims in this case is that no investigation was conducted at all,” Hill said.

Grillo said he was concerned that not requiring the department to provide any details could violate Tesla’s constitutional right to due process, since the company is entitled to argue that the agency failed to investigate the claims before suing.

But the judge also said that there should be some limit to the information the department must provide.

“You don’t get to inquire into the most minute details,” Grillo said. “But in between that and ‘trust us,’ there’s a big gap.”

Several other lawsuits are pending in California courts that accuse Tesla of tolerating discrimination and sexual harassment at its factories. Tesla has denied wrongdoing.

A federal judge in Oakland in April 2022 cut a jury award to a Black worker who alleged racial harassment from $137 million to $15 million. The worker rejected the reduced award and opted for a new trial on damages, which is scheduled to begin on March 27.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)