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Tesla erases references to DEI from its new 10-K following Elon Musk’s criticisms

<i>David Zalubowski/AP</i><br/>A sign bearing the Tesla company logo is displayed outside a Tesla store in Cherry Creek Mall in Denver
David Zalubowski/AP
A sign bearing the Tesla company logo is displayed outside a Tesla store in Cherry Creek Mall in Denver

By Ramishah Maruf, CNN

New York (CNN) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a new social media target: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Following Musk’s recent critical posts about DEI policies and racial discrimination lawsuits against Tesla, the electric car company has omitted all language regarding minority workers and outreach to minority communities in its 10-K filing with the SEC made January 29. Bloomberg first reported the omissions.

Previously, Tesla’s annual 10-K for 2022, had celebrated the apparent diversity of its workplace: “At Tesla, our employees show up passionate about making a difference in the world and for each other. With a majority-minority workforce, empowering our employee resource groups to take charge in driving initiatives that attract, develop and retain our passionate workforce is vital to our continued success.”

In the company’s 2021 10-K, it had said one of its key human capital objectives was “attracting, developing and retaining top talent while integrating diversity, equity and inclusion principles and practices into our core values.” The same sentence was present in the filing for 2020 as well.

In those two reports, the company said it had reached out to “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions” and sponsored different employee resource groups, such as “LGBTQ at Tesla” and “Asian Pacific Islanders at Tesla.”

Those two lines were omitted from the company’s most recent 10-K filing for the 2023 fiscal year, as well as any references to DEI, a diverse company or a majority-minority workforce.

In Musk’s eyes, DEI is “just as morally wrong as any other racism and sexism,” he tweeted in December. It’s a much different view from the one held four years ago by many in corporate America, when major companies responded to the social unrest after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police with public commitments to DEI.

And as recently as 2020, Tesla had been publishing its own corporate DEI reports, reaffirming its commitment to the mission.

CNN has reached out to Tesla for comment, though the company does not usually respond to press requests. In its most recent 10-K filing, Tesla said it evaluates and promotes employees “based on their skills and performance” and that it doesn’t tolerate “harassment, retaliation, violence, intimidation and discrimination of any kind on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability or veteran status.”

But the Supreme Court gutting of affirmative action in 2023, as well as the public ousting of Harvard’s first Black woman president Claudine Gay, has turned DEI into a political firestorm and a heated debate in corporate America.

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who led the push to remove Gay from her position at Harvard, published a 4,000-word opus on X arguing against DEI, and quickly became one of its most vocal critics. His lengthy post was retweeted by Musk last month.

“DEI is just another word for racism. Shame on anyone who uses it,” Musk wrote in his post sharing Ackman’s thesis. In a follow-up post, the billionaire doubled down, adding, “DEI, because it discriminates on the basis of race, gender and many other factors, is not merely immoral, it is also illegal.”

But even before Musk’s rants, and despite the goals laid out in its previous 10-K filings, the electric carmaker has struggled with race and equity.

Last April, a jury ordered Tesla to pay $3 million in a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee of its assembly plant in Fremont, California. Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at the plant, reported he regularly heard racial slurs, including the N-word, on the Fremont factory floor, and saw racist graffiti in bathrooms and a racially insensitive cartoon.

Separately, in 2022 the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said the agency had received “hundreds” of complaints from workers alleging racism and harassment at the Fremont factory.

But despite the high-profile tweets from some of the wealthiest men on earth, hundreds of C-suite executives in the United States said their organizations remained committed or increased diversity, equity and inclusion efforts since 2022, according to a survey published by the employment law firm Littler.

Mark Cuban, billionaire businessman and minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks, pushed back on Musk’s posts in a thread defending DEI as good for businesses and their workers.

“The loss of DEI-Phobic companies is my gain,” Cuban wrote. “Having a workforce that is diverse and representative of your stakeholders is good for business.”

CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke and Nicquel Terry Ellis contributed to this report.

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