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Commission: Discrimination likely occurred at Toledo Transmission plant

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has upheld its ruling that there is probable cause General Motors engaged in illegal discriminatory practices at its Toledo Transmission plant.

Lawyers for GM appealed the commission’s initial determination, which came after a lengthy investigation into five separate complaints that black employees at the Alexis Road plant had been targeted with racist language or symbolism.

On Thursday, the commission board rejected those appeals.

“The finding today was that there’s probable cause that discrimination took place,” said Mary Turocy, a spokesman for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

RELATED: State says GM failed to address noose, racial slurs

Ms. Turocy said all five complaints contained similar allegations of racial discrimination. One complaint — that of Ray Wood, the former president of United Auto Workers Local 14 — also included an allegation of “retaliation discrimination.” 

A spokesman for GM said the automaker was disappointed in the commission’s decision and maintained the company’s position that it has not broken any laws. 

“While the incidents are unacceptable, we took prompt action to investigate and address the issues that occurred at the Toledo Transmission facility. We are reviewing our next steps and maintain we have not violated any laws,” the company said in an emailed statement to The Blade.

“Harassment and discrimination of all types, including those racial in nature, are simply not tolerated at General Motors,” the statement continued. “We take harassment and discrimination claims very seriously and treat any incident brought forward with confidentiality, sensitivity and a sense of urgency. GM has a strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and we encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment without fear of retaliation.” 

Full details of all five complaints filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission weren’t immediately available. However, several alleged instances were laid out in the commission’s letter of determination about Mr. Wood’s case that was obtained by The Blade earlier this week.

That letter, dated March 16, notes that investigators from the commission documented at least three instances in which nooses were discovered in the plant between March and June of last year, and two instances of Nazi symbolism being drawn on restroom walls in the past year.

The letter also noted that GM was made aware of someone writing “whites only” on restroom stall doors in December, and that witnesses told investigators that team leaders and other employees at the plant frequently referred to African-American workers in the plant by using an acronym that included a racial slur.

In an interview Thursday, Mr. Wood said GM had not reacted quickly enough, nor strongly enough, to the concerns that were raised by employees. 

“Hopefully their lawyers will go back and say, ‘we need to put policies in place, we need to not fluff it, we need to address it, and we need to not try to sweep it under the rug,’” Mr. Wood said. 

The findings from the Ohio Civil Rights Commission do not necessarily mean General Motors broke the law, but rather that there is sufficient evidence to move the case forward. 

Ms. Turocy said the individuals who filed the complaints and General Motors do have the option of reaching a settlement between themselves and the state through conciliation. If the parties are unable to do so, the commission’s investigation and findings will be forwarded on to the Ohio Attorney General’s office for possible civil action.

Mr. Wood said he’s hopeful to reach a settlement that will be beneficial to the plant’s current employees.

“Maybe GM will take this a little bit more seriously and through the conciliation process we can come up with something that the membership will feel comfortable with,” he said. “I don’t want nothing out of this.”

The plant has about 1,600 hourly workers. 

Dennis Earl, the current president of UAW Local 14, said Thursday that he supported the Ohio Civil Rights Commission looking into the allegations. 

“I believe that those instances need to be fully investigated,” he said.

Mr. Earl said he wanted to reserve further comment on the investigation until he was able to see the commission’s final report. 

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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