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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

Lawsuits allege sex harassment at Toledo Jeep

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Melody Williams alleges retaliatory demotion in her lawsuit. Melody Williams alleges retaliatory demotion in her lawsuit.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Melody Williams is candid about having an intimate relationship with a Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant supervisor whom she says pursued her.

But sexual harassment and gender discrimination began, the Toledoan alleges, after she became pregnant a few months into the 2003 relationship with Torrence Frazier.

Ms. Williams contends she complained to both DaimlerChrysler AG and United Auto Workers Local 12 officials, but the harassment escalated from Mr. Frazier threatening to fire her to demoting her, verbally harassing her, and eventually forcing her to have sex to get paid for overtime.

"They told me that they didn't believe me," the 41-year-old told The Blade yesterday.

This month, she filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo against Chrysler, Mr. Frazier, and Local 12. She is seeking more than $100,000 plus expenses on each count of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

She is not the only worker contending in federal court that she was a victim of sexual harassment at the area's only auto assembly plant.

Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese declined to comment on pending litigation or results of related internal investigations. The company, he said, takes allegations of harassment seriously and has programs to discuss issues. All known violations are investigated, he said, and those found guilty of harassment face discipline, including dismissal. "We have a zero-tolerance policy in place," Mr. Palese said.

Dan Henneman, chairman of Local 12's Jeep unit, declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Mr. Frazier, who also is named in two other suits but is not listed as a defendant, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Nationwide, gender discrimination charges spiked and incidents of sexual harassment increased last year, according to an annual survey by the law firm Jackson Lewis LLP. It found that 58 percent of survey participants sued by employees cited gender discrimination, up from 48 percent the year before, and 63 percent said they handled a sexual harassment complaint, up from 57 percent.

Two other Toledo Jeep workers represented by Ms. Williams' attorney, Mee O. Sanders and Kelly Alexander, filed lawsuits against Chrysler this year. And Valerie Jaques filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and other actions against fellow union member Lee Herbert, who coordinates Jeep's employee assistance program. She also named Chrysler and Local 12.

"In essence, everyone knows that it is going on , but nobody is doing anything about it," said Ms. Williams, who is friends with Ms. Sanders.

She added: "We're not in this for the money. We're in this for change."

Mr. Herbert declined to comment yesterday.

Scott Batey, a suburban Detroit attorney who represents Ms. Williams, Ms. Sanders, and Ms. Alexander, said Toledo Jeep officials seem to retaliate against women who report harassment instead of supporting them.

Part of the problem is the close relationship Chrysler and Local 12 have at Jeep, he said. "They tend to be partners," Mr. Batey said. "They were supposed to represent these women, and they weren't doing that."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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