Black employees suing GM for inaction over racist remarks, threats
Carol Ozemhoya OW Contributor | 1/18/2019, 10:17 a.m.
More than a half dozen Black employees at a General Motors plant in Toledo, Ohio say they are facing racist threats and intimidation at work. According to multiple news sources, including CNN, the employees have filed a lawsuit. Evidence is laid out in the lawsuit with pictures of nooses, White's only signs and the n-word they say showed up inside the plant.
While GM says it takes discrimination and intimidation seriously and is doing all it can to get rid of the problem, a state law enforcement agency says it isn't doing enough. Marcus Boyd, a former GM supervisor, prayed he’d survive his shift unscathed every day as he walked into work “I felt like I was at war, risking my life every day,” Boyd said. Derrick Brooks, a former marine, worked in the same place. Both were supervisors on different shifts at GM’s transmission plant in Toledo. Brooks considers himself tough from his military training, but he struggled to handle what was happening at work.
“How rough and tough can you be when you got 11 to 12 people who want to put a noose around your neck and hang you ‘til you’re dead?” Brooks said. There is a reason he brings up nooses; it is not just a figure of speech. According to the lawsuit now pending against GM, at least five nooses were discovered at their workplace in separate incidents. The suit also claims there were signs that Blacks were not welcome there. “This was saying you don’t belong here. This was saying if you stay here this what could possibly happen to you,” Brooks said.
In this struggling town, Brooks and Boyd did not want to leave their six-figure jobs. Brooks has eight children, and Boyd takes care of his mother who is an amputee. Now they and seven others have sued GM for allowing an “underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying.” “Well, when an employee who was under me, he told me that back in the day a person like me would have been buried with a shovel. That was a death threat. And I was told to push that to the side,” said Boyd, who reported the incident.
“He admitted to it, and I was pulled to the side and told, you know, if you want to build relationships here, know you just let things go, he’ll be alright,” Boyd said. When the noose appeared in March of 2017 Brooks says he reported it to upper management. He was sure he was the intended target, but says he was told to investigate by questioning his employees. “It felt like a slap in the face. It did, but I had to be professional.”
General Motors sent CNN a statement insisting that discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how they expect people to show up at work: “We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive.” One employee filed a police report. Others filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission prior to filing suit. Darlene Sweeney-Newbern, of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, said, “The ultimate decision that was made is that GM did allow a racially hostile environment.”
GM says that it held mandatory meetings and even closed the plant for a day for training and to address the issue with every shift. The Civil Rights Commission report noted a former union president’s testimony that during one of those meetings, a White supervisor said that “too big of a deal” was being made of the nooses and “there was never a Black person who was lynched that didn’t deserve it.” The lawsuit alleges that the supervisor was never disciplined. Brooks and Boyd say there in lies the problem, that GM is a lot of talk and not enough action. “General Motors is supposed to stand for something. Right? That's the great American company. What are you doing about this?” Boyd asked.
So far, GM says it has not identified who is responsible for hanging those nooses and no one has been fired in those incidents. However, GM claims it has dismissed some people at the Toledo plant during its extensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment work that is continuing across its plants.