A.J. Vandermeyden, a former engineer at Tesla, has been fired in what she describes as an act of “retaliation” on the part of the car manufacturer after she sued for discrimination. Vandermeyden, who began working at Tesla in 2013, first brought attention to her lawsuit in February during an interview with The Guardian in which she claimed that the company had consistently ignored her reports of sexual harassment and pay discrimination. While the case has not yet concluded, Vandermeyden’s termination has thrown a proverbial wrench into the proceedings, putting the spotlight back on Silicon Valley where tech companies like Uber and Google have faced a rash of complaints regarding employment standards — or lack thereof — over the past several months.
“It is illegal in the state of California for an employer to retaliate against an employee who asserts her rights,” explained Therese Lawless, Vandermeyden’s lawyer, “including her rights to receive equal pay as her male colleagues.” While working at Tesla, Vandermeyden claims that the company actively promoted men over herself and her female colleagues who were equally, if not more qualified, explaining that in order for them to be promoted, they would have to achieve a standard of performance that was unattainable. In addition, she alleges that blatant sexual misconduct occurred frequently on the factory floor, including catcalls, whistling, and other unwanted advances and language from male colleagues.
In a statement given to The Guardian, the company said it had thoroughly investigated all allegations with the help of a “neutral, third-party expert” but found Vandermeyden’s complaints to be unsubstantiated. On the flip-side, Tesla insisted that Vandermeyden had been treated with kid gloves all along and “given special treatment and opportunities for advancement that were unwarranted based on her qualifications.” While the company stands by its assessment that her allegations were false, her termination has raised eyebrows considering it comes months after the suit was initially filed.
“The termination was based on Ms. Vandermeyden behaving in what the evidence indicates is a fundamentally false and misleading manner, not as a result of retaliation for the lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Tesla said, adding that it was impossible for a company to “trust” an employee once it had made such accusations and that keeping such an individual on as an employee was out of the question. Vandermeyden’s lawyer, no stranger to high profile discrimination suits — she represented former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao in her fight against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said that she was ready to file a formal complaint on behalf of Vandermeyden. “They’ve just proven our case,” Lawless insisted. “It’s clear retaliation.”
Although Vandermeyden first went public with her lawsuit in February, she was initially hopeful that her decision to speak out would help change the atmosphere of the company and allow her to continue working. “She brought the lawsuit in an attempt to make the workplace at Tesla more equitable and fair and to have Tesla comply with the law” Lawless explained in addressing Vandermeyden’s motivations. Caught in a difficult position, Vandermeyden says she still believes Tesla is a revolutionary company. “I really do believe they are doing great things,” Vandermeyden lamented. “Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.