A female engineer at Tesla who accused the car manufacturer of ignoring her complaints of sexual harassment and paying her less than her male counterparts has been fired in what her lawyer alleges was an act of retaliation.
AJ Vandermeyden, who went public with her discrimination lawsuit against Elon Musk’s car company in an interview with the Guardian in February, was dismissed from the company this week.
Vandermeyden had claimed she was taunted and catcalled by male employees and that Tesla failed to address her complaints about the harassment, unequal pay and discrimination. “It’s shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have,” she said at the time.
In a statement to the Guardian, Tesla confirmed the company had fired Vandermeyden, saying it had thoroughly investigated the employee’s allegations with the help of a “a neutral, third-party expert” and concluded her complaints were unmerited.
“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,” a Tesla spokesperson said. “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.”
“This was absolutely shocking for AJ. She is devastated,” Therese Lawless, Vandermeyden’s attorney, said by phone. “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.”
Asked about Tesla’s justification for the firing, Lawless said: “They’ve just proven our case. It’s clear retaliation.” She added: “Somebody is trying to instill in employees that when they speak out about matters they are legally allowed to speak out about, they too will be fired.”
Vandermeyden’s firing is likely to reignite debate over employment standards in Silicon Valley, where startups and major tech corporations are grappling with complaints of systemic wage disparities, gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
An account of alleged sexism at Uber went viral earlier this year, fueling debate about harassment in the industry, while a recent federal lawsuit against Google has placed a spotlight on concerns about tech firms underpaying women.
Lawless, who represented the former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao in her high-profile discrimination lawsuit, against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said she intended to file a formal retaliation complaint on behalf of Vandermeyden.