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Tesla moves to pause California agency's race bias lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: The Tesla factory is seen in Fremont

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - Tesla Inc has asked a California judge to pause a state agency's lawsuit that accuses the electric car maker of widespread race discrimination at its flagship assembly plant, saying the state must further investigate the claims and allow a chance to settle the litigation.

Tesla in a filing in state court in Oakland on Monday also revealed that it is separately being investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and said California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) may have rushed to file its lawsuit in February as part of a "turf war" with the federal agency.

In the filing, Tesla's lawyers said DFEH conducted a "bare bones investigation" before suing, and did not share many worker complaints with the company until after the lawsuit was filed. The company added that DFEH violated a state law requiring the agency to take various steps before suing an employer.

The state agency last month lost a bid to block an $18 million settlement between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard Inc in a sex discrimination case. The agency said the settlement could interfere with its own sex bias lawsuit against Activision.

DFEH did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An EEOC spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending investigations.

The state agency in its lawsuit accused Tesla of fostering a "racially segregated workplace" at its Fremont, California plant where Black workers were subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline and pay.

Tesla is seeking to stay the lawsuit for 120 days and force DFEH to attempt to mediate the claims with the company outside of court.

The case is the latest to accuse Tesla of tolerating egregious discrimination at the Fremont plant.

A federal judge in California last week awarded $15 million to a former Tesla elevator operator in a race bias case. The judge slashed a $137 million jury verdict, but said the plaintiff had shown ample evidence of racial abuse and Tesla's failure to address it.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)