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Female Ford employee renews sexual harassment case against automaker

Dozens of women employed at two Chicago-area Ford production facilities claim the company turned a blind eye to reports of rampant harassment, including groping and lewd comments.

CHICAGO (CN) — An employee of Ford Motor Company, representing a class of more than 30 women, all current and former employees of two Ford Motor Company facilities in the Chicago area, filed a federal class action against the auto giant Tuesday claiming workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The filing in Chicago federal court is a second amended complaint in a case first brought in 2014 with allegations dating back years.

The plaintiffs claim their experiences working at either the Ford Assembly Plant in Chicago or the Ford Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights is a fixture of the workplace culture at the plants. The women point out that similar lawsuits have been brought against Ford going back to 1995. Between 1994 and 1995, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also launched an investigation of Ford's two Chicago plants, finding conditions similar to those the women allege still exist today.

"I have determined that the evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that a class of female employees at Ford’s Chicago area manufacturing facilities, including the charging party, has been subjected to sexual harassment by managers and non-managers," according to the 1995 report from an EEOC investigator included in all versions of the lawsuit. "The women have been called sexually degrading names such as bitches, whores and offensive references to female genitalia... They have been physically touched, grabbed and groped, and have had body parts massaged without their consent."

Today, the class members allege that in addition to the accusations outlined in the 26-year-old EEOC report, that they have also been subject to the "elevator eyes" of male co-workers, lewd comments, groping, requests for sexual favors, attempted rape, and retaliation for reporting these actions to their supervisors or managers.

One woman even reported finding a dead rat on her porch in 2016 after reporting a sexual harassment incident. She alleges that a human resources manager later blamed her for provoking the incident.

"As recently as March, 2016, plaintiff received retaliatory threats at her home. A dead rat was placed on the doormat on plaintiff’s front porch, suggesting to plaintiff that she is a 'rat' for complaining about sexual harassment and discrimination and sending her the threatening message that 'rats get killed," the amended complaint states.

It continues, "After plaintiff continued complaining about sexual harassment and retaliation and informed supervisors that she was even being threatened at her home, Human Resources Manager Anita O’Connor accused plaintiff of creating a hostile work environment. O’Connor blamed plaintiff that plaintiff was 'too aggressive' in complaining about sexual harassment and retaliation and thus, it was her fault other employees became upset and threatened plaintiff by placing a dead rat on plaintiff’s porch."

Since the initial November 2014 filing, several class members have taken settlements from Ford. However, over 30 women remain named plaintiffs. That so many women remain party to the suit, even seven years later, underlines the core of the plaintiff class' allegations.

"Ford is a recidivist offender that willfully ignored the issues and evidence raised in prior litigation and EEOC findings and has failed to take measures to eradicate known discrimination and harassment from the workplace," the latest version of the complaint states.

Besides the swap of individual class members, the largest difference between the current iteration of the suit and the 2014 filing is the inclusion of state law charges and others stemming from a 2014-15 EEOC investigation into the two Ford plants. The results of that investigation proved just as damning as the one carried out in 1994-95: Investigators found evidence of not only sexual harassment and sex discrimination, but racial discrimination against the Black class members in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

"I have determined that the evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that [Ford Motor Company] discriminated against charging party and a class of employees based on their sex, female, in that they were subjected to sexual harassment and gender based harassment... I have further determined that the evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that respondent discriminated against charging party and a class of employees based on their race, Black, in that they were subjected to racial harassment, in violation of Title VII," an EEOC investigator stated in their report.

Black class members reported seeing lewd graffiti and depictions of Black women performing oral sex on white men. They also allege that they were denied overtime hours and given worse job assignments compared to their white co-workers. One plaintiff even claimed to have earned the nickname of "Black Snitch Bitch" for her reporting of racist behavior to the company and her cooperation with the EEOC and United Auto Workers investigations.

In addition to seeking compensatory damages and reimbursement of lost income for those class members who left their jobs at the plants, the plaintiffs also demand that Ford take steps to change the allegedly racist and sexist culture at those facilities.

Specifically, the suit asks a federal judge to "order Ford to implement effective steps to eliminate and remediate harassment and discrimination in the workplace; Enjoin Ford from discriminating against or harassing the named plaintiff and Ford’s employees; [and] appoint a monitor to supervise workplace conditions in each plant for a period of at least five years,"

In a prepared statement, a spokesperson said Ford it does not tolerate the kind of behavior the class members allege in al versions of the suit.

“Ford does not tolerate harassment or discrimination. We take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” the Ford spokesperson said. “We have a comprehensive approach to prevent and address harassment and discrimination at our facilities.”

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