The Tesla showroom at Westfield UTC. Photo by Chris Jennewein

A Black man who is a part-time actor is suing Tesla, alleging he was harassed and passed over for promotions because of his race.

Naymon Frank – who worked as an assistant manager at Tesla’s UTC showroom – also said Elon Musk told management to fire him if he did not resign after he appeared in an Audi commercial with company permission. The ad aired during the 2020 Super Bowl.

Frank’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit allegations include discrimination, harassment, constructive discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and various state labor code violations.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit brought Friday.

A Tesla representative could not be reached.

Before working at Tesla, Frank played college football for Oregon State and served as an Oregon state police officer. He is also a part-time model and actor, the suit states. He previously worked in store management at Iniqlo, according to the suit.

Tesla hired Frank in August 2016 for a sales position in Newport Beach, with incentives including the promise of stock options, the suit states. He also trained workers in Buena Park, Brea and Costa Mesa, according to the suit

In November 2018, Frank became an assistant store manager in San Diego, where he says he often worked 80 hours a week without overtime pay, meal or rest breaks or compensation for his relocation costs. Tesla passed him over four times when he sought promotions to store manager, the suit states.

A year later, Frank was chosen to appear in a commercial for the Audi e-tron luxury electric car, set to be broadcast during the Super Bowl in 2020, the suit states. Although Frank was never been told he could not do such work while employed by Tesla, he asked his boss for permission, according to the suit.

Management gave Frank three days off to work on the commercial and no one said anything about a possible conflict of interest, but a regional manager nonetheless told the entire leadership team at the Carlsbad location that his appearance “wasn’t that cool,” the suit states.

The Audi commercial aired on Jan. 31, 2020, the day before Frank’s new job as assistant store manager began in Santa Monica. He was told that the regional manager was fired and that the plaintiff was being given the chance to resign or be terminated himself because of his appearance in the Audi commercial and its conflict of interest.

He faced losing a significant amount of stock benefits as a result, the suit states. He believes Musk wanted him to quit or be fired, saying the Tesla owner knew him because an auto-pilot vehicle in which Frank was riding crashed during the plaintiff’s first year with the company, the suit states.

Frank alleges he also was harassed during his time with Tesla because he is Black and maintains that his race is why he was not promoted. While he worked at the UTC location, every Black salesperson there was fired, according to the suit.

Frank also believes that while employed at Tesla he was the only Black person there who had a managerial level position. He also recalls being told during a performance review that he “can be a scary-looking guy,” the suit states.

– City News Service

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