Lawsuit: Ohio GM plant allowed culture of racism; nooses, ‘white’s only’ signs hung

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More than half a dozen black employees at a General Motors plant say they are facing racist threats and intimidation at work.

The evidence is laid out in a lawsuit with pictures of nooses, white’s only signs and the N-word they say showed up inside the plant.

While GM says it takes discrimination and intimidation seriously and is doing all it can to get rid of the problem.

A state law enforcement agency says it isn’t doing enough. 

Every day he walked into work Marcus Boyd prayed he’d survive his shift unscathed.

“…..I felt like I was at war, risking my life every day,” said Marcus Boyd, a former GM supervisor.

Derrick Brooks, a former Marine, worked in the same place. Both were supervisors on different shifts at GM’s Transmission Plant in Toledo, Ohio.

Brooks considers himself tough from his military training, but he struggled to handle what was happening at work.

“How rough and tough can you be when you got 11 to 12 people who want to put a noose around your neck and hang you ’til your dead?,” said Derrick Brooks, former GM supervisor.

There is a reason he brings up nooses, it is not just a figure of speech.

“This is the picture of the noose that I found the night that I was at work on my shift,” said Brooks.

According to a lawsuit now pending against GM, this was one of at least five nooses discovered at their workplace in separate incidents. 

The suit also claims there were signs that blacks were not welcome there.

“Whites Only” scrawled on a wall along with swastikas on bathroom stalls and “niggers not allowed” scratched or written on bathroom walls.

“This was saying you don’t belong here. This was saying if you stay here this what could possible happen to you,” Brooks said.

In this struggling town, Brooks and Boyd did not want to leave their six figure jobs. 

Brooks has eight children and Boyd takes care of his mother who is an amputee.

Now they and seven others have sued GM for allowing an “underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying.”

“Well, when an employee who was under me, he told me that back in the day a person like me would have been buried with a shovel. [Sidner question] That was a death threat. And I was told to push that to the side,” Boyd said.

Boyd says he reported the incident.

“He admitted to it and I was pulled to the side and said, you know, if you want to build relationships here, know you just let things go, he’ll be alright,” Boyd said.

But he says the threats got worse.

“Definitely. That’s why I left,” Boyd said.

When the noose appeared in March of 2017 Brooks says he reported it to upper management.

He was sure he was the intended target, but says he was told to investigate by questioning his employees.

“It felt like a slap in the face. It did, but I had to be professional,” Brooks said.

Brooks and other black employees also noticed being called “Dan.”

“I thought they just you know mispronounced my name for Derrick. Then later I find out that DAN was an acronym for dumb ass Nigger,” Brooks said.

GM sent CNN as statement insisting that discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how they expect people to show up at work.

“We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive.”

“And that every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are an integral part of its culture. But according to more than half a dozen current and former black employees, the problem is the culture. They say, inside this plant, racism and harassment are the norm, not the exception,” said Sara Sidner, of Toledo, Ohio.

“It’s a culture,” Brooks said.

“It’s a culture,” Boyd said.

“It’s from the top down and bottom up,” Brooks said.

One employee filed a police report.

Others filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission prior to filing suit.

“The ultimate decision that was made is that GM did allow a racially hostile environment,” said Darlene Sweeney-Newbern of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

“The Commission disagrees with that position.//GM did not do very much at all or what they did do is not effective,” said Sweeney-Newbern.

GM says that they held mandatory meetings and even closed the plant for a day for training to address the issue with every shift.

The Civil Rights Commission report noted a former union president’s testimony that during one of those meetings a white supervisor said: “Too big of a deal” was being made of the nooses.

After all “there was never a black person who was lynched that didn’t deserve it.” 

The lawsuit alleges that supervisor was never disciplined.

Brooks and Boyd say there in lies that problem. GM is a lot of talk and not enough action.

“General Motors is supposed to stand for something. Right? That’s the great American company. What are you doing about this?” Boyd said.

So far, GM says it has not identified who is responsible for hanging those nooses and no one has been fired in those incidents.

However, GM says they have dismissed some people at the Toledo plant during its extensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment work that is continuing across its plants.

CNN has learned there has been another threat towards a black employee who was on this lawsuit, who says that he is now afraid for his life.

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