UAW board member made 'sexually violent threat,' union's executive board charges

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The member of the United Auto Workers' governing International Executive Board who leads the region covering Indiana and Ohio made a "sexually violent threat" to a woman in the workplace in 2015 in response to complaints about inappropriate jokes and comments he had made, according to charges issued by the executive board that have been obtained by The Detroit News.

The board submitted the charges in March against Richard Rankin, director of Region 2B, under Article 30 of the UAW constitution to remove him from office following an investigation by a third party into complaints. The examination "substantiated allegations of workplace harassment," the union said at the time, but it did not release the charges, citing confidential personnel information. Rankin was suspended from his role.

Richard Rankin

The charges coincide with an ongoing federal corruption investigation involving the UAW that has led to the convictions of 13 people and exposed the union to a possible takeover by the federal government. Former UAW President Gary Jones is expected to plead guilty next week to racketeering and embezzlement criminal charges.

The Article 30 charges against Rankin that were signed by all other 12 members of the executive board include sexual and sex-based harassment and retaliation. They do not provide specifics on what Rankin allegedly said or did.

"This issue is a confidential personnel matter that includes sensitive information from alleged victims," the UAW said in a statement. "Out of respect for the process and those alleged victims we cannot comment."

The 2015 incident was supported by a "near-contemporaneous" record of the threat and another witness who verified the woman reported the threat shortly after it was made.

"Rich denies the allegations and the charges," Fil Iorio, Rankin's lawyer, told The News, echoing previous objections. "It is clear that a person or persons are trying to smear my client's good reputation and deny his right to a fair hearing. The person or persons who are leaking the information in violation of the UAW constitution should come out from the shadows where they are hiding."

A trial before a 12-member jury of UAW delegates is on hold because of restrictions about gathering due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The charges also state that the investigation found Rankin made "inappropriate 'jokes' and comments that are demeaning to women" beginning shortly after becoming the region's assistant director in 2014.

"The comments went beyond 'shop talk,'" the UAW board members wrote in the charges. "Instead, the comments would insinuate that female employees were engaged in sexual activity with other union employees or members and other sexual stories or jokes. Multiple employees felt that these comments were targeted in such a way as to diminish or demean the professional contributions of female employees."

The remarks were corroborated largely by "non-complaining witnesses" or admitted to by Rankin, according to the charges.

"Where he admitted to making the comments, Rankin would argue that he was being misinterpreted, but multiple witnesses, and often general common sense, undermine his denials," the board members wrote.

Additionally, Rankin suggested that women in the union would advance more if they "used sexuality" or were less likely to object to unwanted attention by men, according to the charges. They also suggested he intimidated alleged victims and witnesses.

"Director Rankin's comments," the document states, "to various employees that suggest that he is or was tracking the investigation into his conduct; surveilling employees' participation in the investigations; and would look unfavorably on employees that support what he felt were unmeritorious claims against him created a reasonable fear among many employees that they would be subject to reprisal for raising complaints."

Rankin is not the only executive board member to be accused of sexual harassment. On Wednesday, a female UAW staff member filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court against the union and three UAW leaders, including Gerald Kariem, UAW vice president and director of the Ford Motor Co. Department. The union has said it typically does not comment on litigation.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble