UPDATED: 5/5/15 4:51 pm ET - adds statement, lawsuit
Ford Motor Co. has replaced the plant manager, human resources officials and labor relations officials at its Chicago Assembly Plant after a federal investigator found evidence to support allegations of rampant sexual harassment and racial discrimination against dozens of female employees there.
As many as eight managers have been removed from the plant within the last several months, a person with knowledge of the situation told Automotive News.
In addition, the plant’s bargaining chairman, Coby Millender, who is identified as one of the harassers in a federal lawsuit filed against Ford in November, was temporarily suspended by the automaker, UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said in a statement the union posted Tuesday on Facebook.
“The UAW and Ford Motor Company share a strong commitment towards eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination, of any form, in the workplace. Such conduct is unacceptable, it is not tolerated and there are policies in place to prevent such from occurring,” Settles said in the post.
Settles said the union has filed a grievance challenging Millender's suspension, which ended April 15. He said both Ford and the UAW are actively investigating the allegations.
The Times of Northwest Indiana reported the manager departures Monday. The paper said Millender had been removed from his position, which Settles said was inaccurate.
A Ford spokeswoman declined to say whether any personnel changes were made in connection with the lawsuit and investigation.
"Ford rotates the career assignments for employees based on the needs of the company,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “Any questions regarding the UAW should be directed to their team.”
The federal suit, originally filed by four women, was amended last week to name 33 female Ford employees who say coworkers and supervisors regularly groped them, attempted to have sex with them and either exposed themselves or showed them pictures of their genitals.
Some of the women say in court filings that they were denied overtime and other benefits when they rebuffed the men or reported the behavior to human resources and labor relations. One woman said she was suspended and then demoted from an $88,000-a-year supervisor’s job to an hourly position earning about $42,000 after she complained and encouraged coworkers to file similar complaints.
In February, an investigator from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said she found “reasonable” evidence to support complaints filed by 13 women who said they were harassed and in some cases disciplined or fired after they complained about the mistreatment, according to documents filed with the lawsuit.
Chicago Assembly has a history of sexual harassment allegations, with Ford paying some $19 million in 2000 to settle a lawsuit. The lawyer who filed that suit, Keith Hunt of Chicago firm Hunt & Associates, also represents the current group of plaintiffs.
As part of that settlement, Ford set up a hotline for workers to report harassment and discrimination. Many of the plaintiffs say they were told to stop calling the hotline after repeatedly filing reports.
No one answered the phone Tuesday at Local 551. Calls to numbers listed for Millender and the local’s president, Chris Pena, were not answered, and there was no way to leave a message.
Officials at UAW headquarters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit and EEOC complaints describe an environment in which supervisors frequently subject the women to lewd comments, nudity and pornography. They say supervisors frequently had sex with female subordinates on the roof of the plant and denied bathroom breaks and other accommodations for women who refused requests for oral sex and intercourse.
“Ford is aware of the ongoing discrimination and harassment which occurs on a daily basis in an open manner, such that it is observed by employees and supervisors, and has turned a blind eye toward it,” the lawsuit says.
One of the plaintiffs says Millender, the bargaining chairman, publicly identified her as “the complainer,” which led to sexual graffiti and phallic items being left in her work and lunch area. Another woman said she was terminated but that Millender promised to get her job back if she had sex with him, and a third woman said Millender threatened to transfer her to a shift with a less desirable schedule if she refused an invitation to a “romantic lunch with him in his office.”
About half of the plaintiffs are or were entry-level workers at Ford, having been hired since 2010, but the others joined the automaker as far back as 1977.