Female engineer who sued Tesla over sexual harassment is speaking up

This post has been updated to add information and comment from Tesla.

A female Tesla engineer who filed a sexual-discrimination lawsuit against the company in the fall is speaking out, further shining a spotlight on gender issues in Silicon Valley.

AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at the company, said in a newspaper interview that the Palo Alto-based electric-vehicle maker ignored her complaints of “pervasive harassment” — including “inappropriate language, whistling and catcalls” on the factory floor — and retaliated against her for raising concerns.

The 33-year-old also said she was paid less than men for doing the same work, and that she and other female engineers were denied promotions, according to the Guardian.

“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” Vandermeyden told the Guardian in her first comments about the lawsuit she filed last year. “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.”

But Tesla says Vandermeyden was promoted within the company, and that a “neutral third party” investigation into her claims found them to “have not been substantiated,” a Tesla spokeswoman told SiliconBeat in an email Tuesday afternoon.

“Ms. Vandermeyden joined Tesla in a sales position in 2013, and since then, despite having no formal engineering degree, she has sought and moved into successive engineering roles, beginning with her work in Tesla’s paint shop and eventually another role in General Assembly,” the Tesla spokeswoman said.

Her LinkedIn profile says Vandermeyden has a bachelor of science in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics from the University of California Los Angeles.

Court documents show that Tesla has requested that Vandermeyden be compelled to enter into arbitration because she signed an arbitration agreement when she was hired by Tesla in 2013.

Vandermeyden’s public comments come at a time when Tesla is dealing with other workplace-related issues, including grumbling from employees about demanding work conditions and low pay, and talk about unionization. Tesla CEO Elon Musk addressed the complaints in an email to employees — in which he disputed the claims about poor working conditions and basically said the claims were union propaganda — last week.

According to the Guardian, Vandermeyden’s claims also include being denied overtime pay and rest and meal breaks when she worked in sales at Tesla. The company also allegedly retaliated against her when she raised concerns about cars being sold in “a defective state.”

She also said most executive and management positions at Tesla are held by men, and that only two out of 30 vice presidents at the company are women. Tesla does not release diversity reports about its workplace.

Referring to Vandermeyden’s claims, the Tesla spokeswoman said: “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.”

Vandermeyden is being represented by Therese Lawless, who represented venture capitalist and former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao in her sexual-discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Vandermeyden’s accusations are similar to those raised by a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, whose recent blog post has blown the sexual-harassment and discrimination issue wide open in the valley.

Uber hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. Female Uber employees are looking for answers. Monday, Uber executive Amit Singhal was forced to resign after the company learned he had failed to disclose that he was accused of sexual harassment when he was at Google.

 

Photo: Outside a Tesla showroom on Feb. 23, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

 

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  • clarify

    She sure has a lot of complaints. Working at start ups is grueling; I can only imagine more so at an auto manufacturer. Sounds to me that she’s more a poor cultural fit for Tesla and angry she didn’t get a promotion which makes sense based on her 9-5 attitude. No doubt she’ll get a payout so Tesla can focus on their core goal of disrupting the auto industry. In the meantime her career is likely over. I wouldn’t hire her. Sounds like a millennial snowflake.

    • Minority

      Her age would make her a GenX/GenY and raised by Baby Boomers to be so unscrupulous

  • charlie hustle

    Being not so good at your job doesn’t mean you get to sue your employer. I guess that’s not completely true. Just need an unscrupulous attorney with an ax to grind.

  • scallies

    Sorry, but her LinkedIn profile shows she’s received a promotion just about every year since 2013 when she started working at Tesla. Something’s not adding up here and this is not going to show well for her in the lawsuit.

  • Rich Partain

    All these same charges and claims have been made against every auto manufacturer since Henry Ford opened his first factory. Valid or not, it’s business as usual and will be handled. Trolling for gotchas against Tesla is endemic. Meantime, Tesla marches on to greatness.

  • Captain Obvious

    If there is a real gender pay gap, why does Tesla hire men at all?

  • Pierre

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see any instances of sexual harassment listed in the article. Perhaps they could be a little more specific.

  • Chuck O

    “sexism and harassment”, no wonder Trump has taken a liking to Tesla.

  • MadBrother

    Same old trouble makers, or new trouble makers with the same old unsubstantiated complaints. It does get old. At-will workers, work if you wish, quit if you wish, but don’t expect to excel at your job or rise to a management position unless you are truly contributing more than 100% to your company.

  • Waldo

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is fake news. Trying to ride in the wake of Uber. Let me get this straight, she was promoted several times and given the opportunity to move into engineering with no engineering background… first off, Tesla is know for not paying well – it’s still operating in start up mode and needs to be mindful of cash. She got a decent equity stake joining in 2013. She wasn’t sexually harassed, cat calls happen everywhere you go, good luck stopping that. She sounds like a squeaky wheel with an axe to grind. You can’t complain that you didn’t get every job and raise you were hoping for. I heard she stood out front of Tesla’s HQ trying to get someone to talk to her and ultimately, it worked. She was hired into their inside sales team which is inherently entry level and has a fixed low salary. Tesla is tough, but take responsibility of your own attitude and actions. Can’t believe she still works there… that’s going to be awkward.

    • RussellL

      “She wasn’t sexually harassed, cat calls happen everywhere you go, good luck stopping that.”

      Cat calls do NOT happen everywhere. It is frowned upon in big corporations.

      • Waldo

        Sorry, you are correct. Cat calls do not happen EVERYWHERE. But if you’ve ever walked through a construction site or factory, its very possible to happen. Clearly it’s frowned upon, but a whistle or an unwanted compliment from someone is very different than the allegations against Uber.

    • Waldo

      UPDATE: Turns out, AJ is engaged to Steven Cooper, Tesla’s former Associate GC / Director of HR who comes from a background in Employment Law… And she owns a Model S… Unfair pay? Harassment Lawsuit? Collusion.

 
 
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