Female Engineer Sues Tesla Over Sexist Culture
News of the lawsuit follows allegations of sexism and sexual harassment at Uber.
A female Tesla employee is suing the electric car maker over what she calls "pervasive harassment" against women at the company, the latest revelation about sexism in Silicon Valley.
AJ Vandermeyden, 33, is accusing Tesla of paying her less than her male counterparts, denying women promotions in favor of less qualified men and retaliating when she brought up these issues, according to The Guardian. Vandermeyden, who still works at the company, filed the lawsuit last fall, but it's just coming to light now.
"Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change," Vandermeyden said in an interview with the news outlet. "I'm an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can't turn a blind eye if there's something fundamentally wrong going on."
She started working for Tesla in 2013 and was later promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the general assembly department. In her complaint, Vandermeyden reportedly alleges that she was paid less than her male predecessors, was commonly the only woman in meetings with 40 to 50 men and was often snubbed when complaining about the sexist work culture.
She recounted one incident to The Guardian when she and another female colleague were harassed as they walked past a group of 20 men. "They all started hooting and hollering and whistling," she reportedly said. "That can't happen without somebody noticing … It's disturbing."
After complaining about sexual harassment, she said higher ups told her the only way to advance in her position was to reach a performance standard she deemed unattainable and said was not expected of males in her position. She eventually transferred out of general assembly to the purchasing department.
In a statement to PCMag, Tesla refuted Vandermeyden's claims.
"Tesla is committed to creating a positive workplace environment that is free of discrimination for all our employees," the statement began. Tesla said Vandermeyden joined the company in sales position in 2013 and "despite having no formal engineering degree … has sought and moved into successive engineering roles" since then.
"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," the company said.
Tesla said it immediately brought in a neutral third party, Anne Hilbert of EMC2Law, to investigate Vandermeyden's claims.
"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,'" Tesla said.
News of the lawsuit comes after former Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler recently posted a scathing blog post describing a culture of sexism and sexual harassment at the company. Among other claims, Fowler said a male manager solicited sex over company chat, and was only given a "stern stalking-to." Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has pledged to "conduct an independent review" into allegations that upper management at the company ignored incidents of sexual harassment.
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