Exclusive: AJ Vandermeyden paints picture of a hostile work environment that promoted less-qualified men and retaliated against her for raising concerns
A female engineer at Tesla has accused Elon Musks car company of ignoring her complaints of pervasive harassment, paying her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoting less qualified men over her and retaliating against her for raising concerns.
The allegations of AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at the celebrated electric car manufacturer, paint a picture of a hostile work environment dominated by men where inappropriate sexual behavior is tolerated and women face numerous barriers to advance their careers.
Vandermeyden, 33, shared her story with the Guardian at a time when Silicon Valley is reeling from the explosive allegations of former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. In a viral blogpost, she alleged that management and HR dismissed her complaints about documented sexual harassment and sexism, protected a repeat offender because he was a high performer and suggested that women in the company were not as skilled as men.
Offering a rare public account of discrimination from a tech worker who remains employed at her company, Vandermeyden said her dedication to Tesla motivated her to advocate for fair treatment and reforms despite the serious risks she knows she faces for going public.
Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change, she said in a recent interview, her first comments about a discrimination lawsuit she filed last year. Im an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I cant turn a blind eye if theres something fundamentally wrong going on.
Vandermeyden began at Tesla in 2013 and was eventually promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the general assembly department, which consisted mostly of men and where she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over, according to her complaint.
It was common for her to be the only woman in meetings with 40 to 50 men, she said on a recent morning, seated in the living room of her familys house in San Carlos, the city where Tesla was founded, located across the bay from its current factory in Fremont.
Currently, all chief executive positions are held by men at Tesla, and out of more than 30 vice-presidents, only two are women, she added.
Its shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have.
Vandermeyden said that when complaints arise at Tesla about workplace issues or inequality, the response is often: Were focused on making cars. We dont have time to deal with all this other stuff.
Tesla, founded in 2003, has gained international recognition for its battery-powered vehicles and autonomous driving technology, promoted by Musk, the ambitious entrepreneur who makes headlines for bold pledges about space travel, artificial intelligence, underground tunnels and driverless cars.
But Vandermeydens complaint, filed last fall, alleges that there were inadequacies in the quality testing of cars, and that she raised issues about the flaws she observed, which supervisors and male engineers had missed.
Although she came up with a solution, men were granted positions above her, her lawyers wrote. She and other female engineers were denied promotions even though they were equally or more qualified than the men, according to the complaint.