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Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett addressed recent allegations of sexual harassment at the automaker’s Chicago plants in an open letter to employees.

“I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct,” Hackett wrote in the letter released Thursday. “On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.”

The letter comes after the New York Times reported that women at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant and Chicago Stamping Plant said their complaints about sexual harassment were met with hostility, and that management’s efforts to correct the problem proved ineffective.

“Candidly, it was gut wrenching to read the accounts of these women in The New York Times article,” Hackett wrote. “As an experienced CEO, I know there is no institution of merit that would support or condone an environment like the one described in this article.

“And there is absolutely no room for harassment at Ford Motor Company,” he continued. “We don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this.”

Hackett’s letter makes mention of the long history of harassment and discrimination at the Chicago plants, both of which were under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the summer. Ford will pay a $10 million to settle the charges.

In a statement released earlier this week, the Dearborn automaker condemned behavior at the plants, saying though its efforts to stamp out harassment began in earnest more than two years ago.

In addition to ramping up anti-harassment training, Ford said it increased the human resources staff at the Chicago plants, including a staff member who oversees both plants and reports directly to the automaker’s headquarters.

A nearly three-minute video denouncing harassment and discrimination and detailing the procedure for reporting such behavior — hosted by Ford manufacturing chief Bruce Hettle and vice president of the UAW’s Ford department Jimmy Settles — is playing on a constant loop at all of Ford’s U.S. manufacturing plants. The video began playing Tuesday, the day the New York Times report published.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams also came down on sexual harassment this week, stating that the union has a “zero tolerance” policy.

“Working men and women have to understand that people ought to be able to go to the workplace without being harassed for any reason whatsoever,” he said.

Hackett promises in his letter that accusers can come forward without fear of retaliation.

“No one is above the rules, no matter where they are in the hierarchy,” he wrote. “This is absolute. We have zero tolerance for any behavior like this, and we will stamp it out together.”

NNaughton@detroitnews.com

Open letter from Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett

I come to work each day at Ford with a sense of extreme optimism.

Since our founding in 1903, Ford has remained one of the most successful and respected companies in the world. Most other great companies from a century ago are gone for one reason or another.

To thrive for 114 years means Ford had to do many things right. And when it didn’t, it needed to acknowledge things would have to change if we wanted to be here in the future.

This week, The New York Times detailed a number of allegations of sexual harassment at our plants in Chicago over many years.

Candidly, it was gut wrenching to read the accounts of these women in The New York Times article.

Sexual harassment has been the center of a needed conversation confronting the haunting issues that one would hope had improved as the world gets smarter, more incisive and accountable.

Most importantly, I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct. On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.

As an experienced CEO, I know there is no institution of merit that would support or condone an environment like the one described in this article.

And there is absolutely no room for harassment at Ford Motor Company. We don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this.

Our promise is there will be no retaliation against anyone who speaks up, and no one is above the rules, no matter where they are in the hierarchy. This is absolute. We have zero tolerance for any behavior like this, and we will stamp it out together.

Ford has been grappling with these allegations in Chicago for some time. There were EEOC settlements in 1999 and earlier this year that will provide relief to women who were subjected to harassing conduct. While we believe that airing of these issues and the steps the company has taken will help us move forward, we are deeply disappointed that at any time any of our employees may have thought this was okay behavior.

When we leave for work every day, our families expect that we are going to an environment that is safe, healthy and respectful. In fact, the outstanding reputation and acclaim that Ford has earned in the world is a source of pride for all of us who work at Ford Motor Company as well as our families.

Having read and reread the article, I can’t let there be any doubt on where we stand on harassment and felt compelled to share these thoughts more publicly: We have zero tolerance for it.

It is critical to be clear to all of our employees about what right and wrong is. If your people do not feel safe and respected, they won’t work for your company. And your successful company will falter.

I can assure you that the people here care deeply about the employees in Chicago and have worked hard to improve the situation and continue to do so. During the past two years, Ford and the UAW have invested in 20,000 hours of employee training at the Chicago plants to reinforce a standard of mutual respect that is non-negotiable.

In addition, we have significantly increased staffing at the plants to provide more oversight and quickly investigate any reported incidences of harassment or discrimination. We also entered into a settlement with the EEOC that I mentioned earlier, which establishes a panel of three independent experts to monitor personnel related matters in the plants such as harassment investigations, training and adherence to policies for up to five years. In addition, the settlement creates a fund of more than $10 million to provide relief to those employees who have been subjected to harassing conduct.

We “get” our responsibility to make all Ford work environments safe and respectful for all Ford employees, and we are working hard to fulfill that responsibility. This has been a learning experience about how difficult it can be to root out bad behavior.

I’ve been in business for too long, though, to believe you can create a great culture simply through a top-down dictate. While it’s vital that the values of the company are unambiguous and start at the top, this cascade of values needs to permeate every employee’s consciousness. And those employees, in addition to management, must make it clear to every new member joining the team what is expected.

We’re committed to that absorption.

I will be in front of our employees in Chicago when everyone is back from the holidays to let them know that when they leave for work in the morning, they and their families can expect that they are coming to an environment that is safe, respectful and motivating them to do the best job possible.

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