Ford sued for sexual, racial harassment at Dearborn Truck Plant

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
A Ford F-150 rolls along the line at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant Final Assembly in the Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Mich. on Sept. 25, 2018.

An employee at Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant is suing the company on claims her male supervisor groped her, sexually harassed her and showed her photos of himself having sex with other women who work at the plant.

DeAnna Johnson, 54, alleges the Dearborn Truck Plant supervisor on a daily basis would ask her to show him her breasts while he was teaching Johnson her job as production supervisor and assessing her performance.

A Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman said Thursday the supervisor accused of harassment was fired in December after an internal review. 

The supervisor also called Johnson, who is African-American, "'chocolate jolly rancher,'" according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. "When she asked him what that meant, he responded that she was a chocolate treat" that he wanted to have sex with. 

“Ford does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination," Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said in a statement. "We take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly. While we have not received this lawsuit, we are aware of the allegations. The plaintiff filed a Human Resources complaint in November 2018. We launched an investigation, immediately suspended the employee that was the subject of the complaint, then fired him in December. Ford also interviewed every supervisor who the plaintiff claims had knowledge of her allegations prior to her Human Resources complaint and found that the only supervisor to whom she complained immediately referred her complaint to Human Resources.”

Both the plaintiff and the supervisor who was fired were salaried employees, according to Ford.

The lawsuit was filed just more than a year after CEO Jim Hackett traveled to the automaker's plants in Chicago to address allegations of sexual harassment made there. The New York Times reported in late 2017 that women at the Chicago plants said their complaints about sexual harassment were met with hostility, and that management’s efforts to correct the problem proved ineffective.

Following that report, Hackett wrote an open letter to Ford employees, and the automaker played a three-minute video on a loop in U.S. plants denouncing sexual harassment. 

Hackett and Ford publicly and repeatedly denounced the actions at the Chicago plants. The automaker said a year ago it would pay $10 million to settle the charges there.

Johnson's claims about her experience at the Dearborn Truck Plant are similar in nature to those reported at the Chicago facilities. 

The supervisor, according to the lawsuit, often stuck his cellphone in Johnson’s face, to show her a picture of him having sex. Johnson "recognized some of the women in the pictures as (his) subordinates — women who worked the line and reported to him. Each time, (the supervisor) would comment 'oops, wrong picture' or something similar," the lawsuit alleges.

The supervisor allegedly told Johnson he wanted to have sex with her because he did not yet have a black woman in his "collection," according to the lawsuit. Johnson's attorney, Carol Laughbaum, told The Detroit News the supervisor is white.

The suit also says the supervisor sent Johnson "numerous sexually suggestive inappropriate texts," and sent her a photo of "himself in his underwear, and pictures of his genitals."

Johnson in October reported the supervisor's actions to managers. The suit alleges that the manager she first reported the incidents to told Johnson that she should "just" have sex with the supervisor "and get it over with."

When higher-level managers did report the incidents, the lawsuit says Johnson was told by Ford human resources department to turn over her cellphone so the company could collect data from it.

When Johnson asked why Ford was not going through the supervisor's phone, the suit alleges the company said he refused to give it up. Johnson has since been on medical leave, according to the lawsuit. It says she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Johnson is suing Ford for one count of allowing a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act; one count of racial harassment; and one count of sexual assault and battery. Johnson is demanding she be compensated for lost wages while on leave in addition to other damages.

The United Auto Workers union released a statement Friday in response to the suit.

"No UAW member should ever feel the sting of racism in the workplace," it said. "The UAW has long believed as part of our core values that discrimination has no place in the workplace. We have created a series of avenues that allow our members to address discrimination, including through our civil rights committees, UAW Constitutional procedures, the grievance process and other workplace mechanisms.

"But the fact is, even in 2018, there are still members who are touched by unacceptable behavior. We take this seriously and our goal is to make all members feel safe and welcome in their workplace, always."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Staff writer Robert Snell contributed.