A female engineer has been fired by a famous electric car manufacturer, after she accused the company of “pervasive” sexual harassment and paying her less than her male colleagues.
AJ Vandermeyden was formerly an employee at Tesla, the California-based clean car and sustainable energy company run by Elon Musk. She announced that she had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the corporation in February, saying that she had been taunted and catcalled by her male co-workers, and citing concerns about unequal pay. She also claimed that senior figures at Tesla had not attempted to address her complaints when they were raised internally.
At the time, Vandermeyden told The Guardian: “It’s shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have.” Now, she has been sacked – in what her lawyer has said was an act of “clear retaliation”.
Tesla confirmed it had dismissed Vandermeyden in a statement to The Guardian on Thursday (1 June), saying that the company had concluded that her complaints were unfounded after investigating her allegations with “a neutral, third-party expert” and giving her what it termed “special treatment”.
“Despite repeatedly receiving special treatment at the expense of others, Ms Vandermeyden nonetheless chose to pursue a miscarriage of justice by suing Tesla and falsely attacking our company in the press,” said a Tesla spokesperson.
“After we carefully considered the facts on multiple occasions and were absolutely convinced that Ms Vandermeyden’s claims were illegitimate, we had no choice but to end her employment at Tesla.”
Therese Lawless, Vandermeyden’s attorney, said that her client was “devastated” by the firing and found it “absolutely shocking”. Vandermeyden, she said, had originally filed the lawsuit against Tesla in an attempt to force the company to comply with the law – including offering equal pay to male and female employees.
Now, however, Lawless said that it appeared that “somebody [at Tesla] is trying instil in employees that when they speak out about matters they are legally allowed to speak out about, they too will be fired.”
Lawless added that it is illegal in California for employers to “retaliate against an employee who asserts her rights, including her rights to receive equal pay as her male colleagues.”
Vandermeyden’s original lawsuit claims that she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over. She also alleged that she was passed over for promotion in favour of male engineers, despite consistently catching mistakes that they had made in their testing work.
She said that experienced “unwelcome and pervasive harassment by men on the factory floor including but not limited to inappropriate language, whistling and catcalls”.
Tesla is one of the most high-profile engineering companies in the world, thanks in part to its association with a titan of Silicon Valley: Elon Musk. As well as being Tesla’s CEO and chairman, Musk was the founder of X.com, which later became known as PayPal. The billionaire entrepreneur and inventor also runs SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer that aims to enable affordable space travel and the colonisation of Mars.
Currently in a relationship with Amber Heard, Musk sat on two of President Donald Trump’s business advisory councils until Friday, when he quit after the president announced that he will withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.
Vandermeyden’s attorney said the engineer plans on filing a retaliation complaint against Tesla.
Images: Rex Features / instagram.com/amberheard