GM employees allege nooses, threats, and racist remarks in Ohio plant

‘I felt like I was at war, risking my life every day’

GM employees allege nooses, threats, and racist remarks in Ohio plant
Black employees at a Toledo, Ohio General Motors plant are suing the company for a culture of racism.

TOLEDO, OH (CNN) - More than a half dozen black employees at a General Motors plant in Toledo, OH, say they are facing racist threats and intimidation at work.

The evidence is laid out in a lawsuit with pictures showing nooses, “white’s only” signs, and the n-word. All of them, the lawsuit says, showed up inside the plant.

While GM said it takes discrimination and intimidation seriously and is doing all it can to get rid of the problem, a state law enforcement agency said 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," he said.

Derrick Brooks, a former Marine, worked in the same place, and both were supervisors on different shifts at the General Motor's transmission plant in Toledo.

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 you’re dead?” Brooks asked.

Marcus Boyd, left and Derrick Brooks, right, are part of a lawsuit suing General Motors for allowing racist and hostile work environment.
Marcus Boyd, left and Derrick Brooks, right, are part of a lawsuit suing General Motors for allowing racist and hostile work environment. (Source: CNN)

According to a lawsuit pending against GM, the noose Brooks found 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, including "white's only" scrawled on a wall along with swastikas on bathroom stalls and "ni---rs not allowed " scratched or written on bathroom walls.

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

In this struggling town, Brooks and Boyd didn’t 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. And I was told to push that to the side," Boyd said about the death threat.

Boyd said he reported the incident.

The man Boyd said made the threat "admitted to it, and I was pulled to the side and told, ‘you know, if you want to build relationships here, know you just let things go, he’ll be all right,’” Boyd said.

But he said the threats got worse, and that’s why he left GM.

When the noose appeared in March 2017, Brooks said he reported it to upper management.

He was sure he was the intended target, but said 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 N---er."

General Motors sent a statement insisting that discrimination and harassment were 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

The statement also said 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 said, inside this plant, racism and harassment are the norm, not the exception.

One employee filled a police report, and 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.”

GM said that they held mandatory meetings and even closed the plant for a day for training and 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 because "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 said, therein lies the 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 said it has not identified who is responsible for hanging those nooses and no one has been fired in those incidents. However, GM said they have dismissed some people at the Toledo plant during its extensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment work that is continuing across its plants.

Yet, recently there was another threat towards a black employee who was on this lawsuit, who said he is now afraid for his life.

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