Former Employees Sue GM After Nooses and ‘Whites-Only’ Bathroom Signs Surfaced at Ohio Plant

Nine employees are taking legal action against General Motors after management simply ‘looked the other way’ at vile, racist demonstrations.

byJames Gilboy|
Former Employees Sue GM After Nooses and ‘Whites-Only’ Bathroom Signs Surfaced at Ohio Plant

Nine employees have filed a lawsuit against General Motors that alleges an "underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying" at the company's Toledo Transmission Plant in Ohio.

Former managerial staff Marcus Boyd, Derrick Brooks (a former Marine), and seven other employees filed the suit, which alleges that plant managers, union officials, and GM corporate did nothing substantial to address a worsening climate of racial harassment, intimidation, and even rumors of planned violence over a 14-month period at the Toledo plant—not the Lordstown plant that GM will abandon, contributing to the elimination of 14,000 jobs.

Boyd and Brooks each told CNN that they took jobs at the plant to support their families. Boyd, who was an experienced manager in a different industry, was put on the job despite reportedly receiving no position-specific training, while his white colleagues were trained before starting in their positions. He thought nothing of it but claimed to have noted glares from his mostly white subordinates on his first days on the job.

Many of the employees reportedly demonstrated a disdain for Boyd, ignoring his instruction, and calling him slurs behind his back. When Boyd took the problem of his unruly underlings to management, they reportedly brushed it off and told Boyd to deal with the problem himself. Boyd attempted to do so but was soon thereafter told by one of his subordinates, "back in the day, you would have been buried with a shovel."

He took the comment to management and officials of the local United Auto Workers chapter, who reportedly instructed him to drop the matter in order to "get along."

Around this time, Boyd, Brooks, and the even others noticed many of their white coworkers referring to someone called "Dan." Dan allegedly turned out not to be a plant employee, but a coded acronym for "Dumb-Ass Nigger." Even those outside this circle of black workers were reportedly on the receiving end of harassment, as a white woman (whose relationship is unknown) seen walking with Boyd found "nigger lover" written on her pizza box.

The plant's atmosphere worsened when Boyd turned down a worker's request for vacation. This worker responded by getting angry and brandishing a large clutch assembly as an improvised weapon—illegal in many places—at Boyd, who again reported the incident. The employee's only punishment was the loss of a single day's pay.

"You have management people in high places, and union officials in high places, that work together to protect people ... that are white," Boyd said.

Intimidation ramped up from there. Brooks stumbled across a noose in his work area, and an additional four were found around the plant. When Brooks confronted an employee suspected of hanging the noose, the employee reportedly tried to gaslight him.

"That's not a noose used for hanging, it's a noose maintenance operators use to tie off a line," the employee allegedly told Brooks, who didn't buy it.

"Being in the military I know plenty about knots, and I know there is no reason whatsoever to tie a knot like that other than to use it for hanging a person," Brooks told CNN.

The nooses were reported, but GM's response was to swap the plant's ropes out for yellow chains, print an article about harassment in the employee magazine, and hold a training day which Boyd, Brooks, and others claim to only have addressed violence, not the intimidation they report.

Boyd and Brooks reached their breaking point when they heard rumors that eight white employees planned to tail Boyd out of the factory with a gun—right around the time that Brooks found gun magazines on his desk. Their families pled them to quit for their safety, and so they did.

Local United Auto Workers chapter president Dennis Earl denied there being any unfair treatment at the Toledo Transmission plant.

"Punishments were equal across the board," Earl alleged. "If he feels management was being more lenient—I don't see that. I've never seen that. It's pretty colorblind, if you ask me. Do I believe people are a little too sensitive these days? Absolutely. What passed 20 years ago doesn't pass today."

Several unspecified employees reported the plant to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which concluded in March of 2018 after a nine-month investigation that General Motors did indeed uphold an environment of racial hostility.

"GM did not deny that these things were taking place," stated OCRC regional director Darlene Sweeney-Newbern, who described the plant's environment as one of the worst she'd seen in her career. "They simply said, 'hey as soon as we heard of these things we moved in and we took action.' That is not what we found in the investigation."

The environment in Toledo Transmission Plant may be summed up by what a former UAW chapter president reportedly told Sweeney-Newbern, whom she quoted saying "there was never a black person who was lynched that didn't deserve it."

The Drive contacted the UAW for a statement, and we will update when we receive comment. 

"Every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are integral to the fabric of our culture," said the automaker in a statement. "Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how we 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. General Motors is taking this matter seriously and addressing it through the appropriate court process."

GM confirmed to The Drive that it received complaints of "offensive behavior" at the Toledo plant in 2017, and that it "issued a strong communication" advising against such behavior. Additionally, it confirmed that it held an anti-discrimination seminar at the Toledo plant as well as others.