SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A Black former Tesla contract employee and whistleblower who said he suffered racial abuse while working for the company was awarded $137 million by a jury in a lawsuit.

“I was told I was going to be killed in the factory; I’m going to shoot you. I was told to go back to Africa,” said Owen Diaz who worked at the Bay Area Tesla factory in 2015 and 2016.

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Diaz says racial slurs and threats of violence were near everyday occurrences at the Tesla factory located in Fremont. He told KPIX he repeatedly reported the mistreatment, but claimed management often turned a blind eye to the behavior.

He described the jury’s verdict as vindication.

“I was feeling relief. I’m glad we were finally able to shine a light on Tesla and its practices. I want this to be less about me and more about what’s going on inside Tesla,” he said.

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Tesla disputes Diaz’s claims of inaction by management. The company says two employees were fired and a third was suspended after Diaz reported incidents of harassment.

In an open letter to employees, Vice President Valerie Capers Workman wrote about the verdict, “While we strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We’re still not perfect. But we have come a long way from five years ago. We continue to grow and improve in how we address employee concerns.”

Civil rights attorney Larry Organ said the jury’s verdict sends a clear message of accountability to Tesla.

“The message is racism in the workplace in the form of the N-word and swastikas and pickaninny drawings is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it,” explained Organ.

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Tesla has not announced if it plans to appeal the verdict. But if the company does, it would be up to a judge to either to uphold the jury’s verdict or lower the amount of monetary damages.