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Elon Musk’s message to employees may encourage retaliation against those who complain of discrimination

In the face of a number of employment discrimination lawsuits against Tesla, the company published an email from CEO Elon Musk that one of the lawsuits referenced. Musk’s email covers a lot but the part that struck us was the following:

“We have had a few cases at Tesla where someone in a less represented group was actually given a job or promoted over more qualified highly represented candidates and then decided to sue Tesla for millions of dollars because they felt they weren’t promoted enough. That is obviously not cool.”

Musk’s message to his company seems to express to his employees that it is “not cool” when an employee files a discrimination lawsuit against the company that Musk believes lacks merit. The example Musk uses in his email sounds like a meritless claim but the line between what is and is not a valid claim of discrimination almost always depends on your perspective. Managers at Tesla who are inclined to retaliate against employees that accuse them of discrimination likely feel emboldened by Musk’s message. If one of these managers punished an employee who complained that the manager discriminated against him, telling the employee it was “not cool” to file such a complaint, the manager could clearly point to Musk’s email and say, “I was just saying the same thing as Mr. Musk.”  This is not the type of message the leader of a company should send to their employees.

Most employment discrimination laws include provisions that prohibit retaliation against employees who engage in certain protected activities, such as the activity of filing a discrimination lawsuit against an employer. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. If an employee sues their employer under Title VII alleging that the employer discriminated against them on the basis of one of these protected traits, it would be illegal for the employer to retaliate against the employee for suing it. The purpose of anti-retaliation laws is clear: we want to encourage employees to enforce their rights to be free from discrimination so that discrimination can be eradicated.

The Maine Employee Rights Group has decades of experience representing employees who experienced retaliation because they opposed their employers’ discriminatory actions. If you have experienced retaliation, please contact us to learn more about your rights and legal options.