Groping, taunts and threats on the Tesla factory floor, lawsuit alleges

Fremont worker says she was harassed constantly, while CEO Elon Musk Tweets sexist jokes

Tesla owners, how do you feel when you read this? “I was on the line making the Model 3 being harassed and fearing for my safety nearly every day. No one should feel this way when they come to work.”

That’s a statement from Jessica Barraza, a production associate at Tesla’s Fremont plant, who alleges in a new lawsuit filed Thursday that she and others encountered “a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior, including frequent groping on the factory floor,” which she said was “known to supervisors and managers and often perpetrated by them.” Barraza’s lawsuit says she “complained repeatedly to managers and to HR, who failed to protect her.”

SF attorney David Lowe, who helped Pinterest’s Chief Operating Officer Francoise Brougher win $22.5 million last year in a gender-discrimination lawsuit, filed the bombshell harassment suit against Tesla on Thursday at Alameda County’s Superior Court.

Tesla, which fired its PR team last year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. CEO Elon Musk stands by the decision to let go the comms team, and has recently handled his own communications on related matters with mixed results. Musk tweeted a sexist joke in April, and Lowe and Barraza say that attitude from the top has contributed to the culture of harassment.

“Tesla is responsible for the systemic sexual harassment occurring in its factory,” Lowe said in a statement sent to The Examiner. Lowe, of Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe in the Financial District, and the Jhaveri-Weeks Firm, also in San Francisco, are seeking compensatory damages for lost earnings, emotional distress and other alleged harm on behalf of Barraza…

If you want to understand what’s going on with Millennium Tower, watch the excellent video from Practical Engineering (online at practical.engineering), hyped on Nick Bastone’s blog, The SF Minute. In a nutshell, the 58-story SOMA building is sinking and leaning because columns supporting the foundation were drilled into a soil layer known as “The old bay clay.” (Admit it, you didn’t think you’d learn a rockin’ geology nickname in this column, did you? That’s on the house.)

As water was pumped out of the old bay clay under many SOMA construction sites, the soil compressed, especially on one side of the tower. Thus, the leaning. A fix was found – sinking more underground columns outside the building to shoulder some of the load, thus evening things out. But the drilling for the fix exacerbated the leaning. Work was halted in August as architects and geologists figure out how to proceed more gently. That’s where things stand, or lean…

Don Walpola, left, and Abhi Vyas are the cofounders of a new and very different social media startup, Mem Protocol. (Jennifer Graham Photography)

Don Walpola, left, and Abhi Vyas are the cofounders of a new and very different social media startup, Mem Protocol. (Jennifer Graham Photography)

There’s a brand new social media startup in town, and before you scream “I hate Facebook now!”, it’s worth noting just how different Mem Protocol is. The eight-person SF startup prioritizes users’ privacy, data-protection, and mindful engagement controlled by the users. Translation: They don’t want to connect everything in your life, sell your data or become a disinformation factory. “Our ethos is that we’ve learned from what happened before, and we want to make something better,” says Don Walpola, cofounder and chief technology officer.

But here’s the main reason you should take notice:

Mem Protocol’s first funding, $3.1 million on Thursday, was led by Andreessen Horowitz, the powerhouse tech VC that was an early investor in the aforementioned Facebook. Co-founder Marc Andreessen has been a Facebook board member and close collaborator with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg since 2008. But that relationship has soured, The Wall Street Journal and others have reported. Last month A16z, as the VC firm is known, poached two of Facebook’s top cryptocurrency executives. And now, with Facebook in the middle of a name-changing identity crisis, Andreessen is betting on a whole new take on social media.

Andreessen General Partner Arianna Simpson told The Examiner that core attributes of openness, decentralization and user control are the key to “a new type of social networking platform that’s optimized around the user. That’s the promise we see in Mem.” You can check it out here: www.mem.co

So many questions remain about a mysterious $1.5 million SF City Hall program to explore online voting. Who applied for the federal grant? The answer appears to be Tech Director Linda Gerull, but she didn’t show up for the Elections Commission meeting where the issue was scheduled to be discussed. Why not?

Elections Director John Arntz did, but says he doesn’t know where the money came from. Arntz said the idea was to sprinkle around a little funding that would help disabled people vote online. A bunch of experts told the Board of Supes in a letter that was a disastrous idea. Hooking anything to do with elections up to the internet is a risk, but a project without a clear plan, transparency, or accountability is just irresponsible, groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation say. “Electronic voting is a zombie of an idea that is very hard to kill,” Cindy Cohn, executive director of the EFF, told The Examiner. This scary project is apparently still staggering around City Hall…

Finally, what are they putting in the water down on the Peninsula? Deloitte, the mammoth auditor and business analysts, just released its annual Tech Fast 500 list, which covers the fastest-growing companies in the country. The Bay Area raked in a fifth of the list and is the top region. No real surprise there. But eight of the top 100 are on the Peninsula. Is South San Francisco the new South of Market?

The booming tech companies from just down the train tracks are led by Coherus BioSciences, a Redwood City biotech firm, which reported 2020 revenue of $476 million after reporting no revenue in 2018, which Deloitte says made it the nation’s sixth-fastest-growing tech company. Also in the top 100 were Gong Software in Palo Alto, Harpoon Therapeutics in South San Francisco, Rigel Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco, Catalyst Biosciences in South San Francisco, OneSignal in San Mateo, MOLOCO in Redwood City, and YouAppi in Palo Alto. They’re going to have to change the sign to SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO THE TECH STARTUP CITY…

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