UAW to challenge Ford manager’s suspension

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers has filed a grievance challenging the suspension of a manager at Ford Motor Co.’s Chicago Assembly Plant in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.

According to the UAW, Ford recently suspended plant chairman Allen “Coby” Millender after a lawsuit filed in November claimed he and other managers at the plant sexually harassed female employees, making work there “a total nightmare” for some workers. Millender returned to work in April, but UAW-Ford vice president Jimmy Settles said this week the UAW is filing a grievance to challenge the suspension.

Ford has not said why it suspended Millender. Ford said it has made two personnel changes at the Chicago plant, which employs about 4,000 and makes the Lincoln MKS, Ford Taurus and Explorer.

“Ford rotates the career assignments for employees based on the needs of the company,” Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski said in a statement. “Any questions regarding the UAW should be directed to their team.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is conducting an independent investigation into the matter. Ford said it was cooperating with that investigation.

“The UAW and Ford Motor Company share a strong commitment towards eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination, of any form, in the workplace,” Settles said in a statement. “Such conduct is unacceptable, it is not tolerated and there are policies in place to prevent such from occurring.”

Adamski said Ford has undertaken its own investigation in response to the lawsuit and has “taken appropriate steps in response, including disciplinary action where warranted.”

“At Ford Motor Company, we have a zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy that applies to all employees,” she said in a statement. “We take the allegations of harassment and improper conduct made by employees at our Chicago Assembly and Chicago Stamping plants very seriously.”

In November, several female workers at the plant filed a lawsuit against the automaker alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. The women claim male co-workers, managers and supervisors would target them if they complained about propositions and inappropriate conduct.

In announcing the lawsuit, plaintiff Christie Van said working at the plant has been “a total nightmare.”

Among their grievances, the women allege men at the plant touched and groped them, exposed their genitals to them and subjected them to unwanted comments, stares and pornographic images in the workplace.

In one instance, the lawsuit describes one supervisor who asked to perform oral sex on a plantiff and showed her an area of the plant where other workers would have sex, making her fear that he would force her to do that as well.

In another instance, a manager requested sex with one of the plaintiffs and described the size of his genitals.

When one plaintiff attempted to complain about harassment to Millender, he allegedly invited her to have a romantic lunch with him in his office and to “bring those pretty lips.”

The lawsuit is the not the first of its kind concerning the plant. A 1999 class-action lawsuit alleging sexual harassment was settled and a monitor appointed.

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