Ford Motor Company Under Fire For
Mitsubishi Settles Workers'
Disputes Under Pressure from NOW
by Loretta A. Kane,
Public Relations Director
Ferguson (right) accepts a Courage in Media Reporting award at a Chicago
NOW ceremony. Ferguson is the investigative reporter with the
NBC affiliate in Chicago who broke the story about harassment at Ford Motor
Company. To her left is Jeanette Jones , one of the lead plaintiffs
in the original suit against Ford which was settled last fall. Photo
courtesy of Lorna Brett.
As Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing
settles its sex discrimination suits, women at the Ford
Motor Company's plants in Chicago and other communities are stepping
forward to file sexual harassment complaints against the oldest U.S. automobile
"The complaints in the Ford case are so similar to those against Mitsubishi,
it increases our concern that the problem is industry-wide," said NOW
President Patricia Ireland.
Women at Ford plants have complained that a number of male supervisors
and coworkers are sexual predators who prey upon them. The allegations
range from verbal harassment, including vulgar language and inappropriate
demands for sex, to quid pro quo harassment where women claim they
were forced to have sexual relations to keep their jobs. As in the Mitsubishi
case, damning images of Ford supervisors and workers engaging in sexually
suggestive and explicit acts at a party were offered as evidence of the
Following the initial reports by women workers at Ford's Chicago manufacturing
plants, Chicago NOW launched a local campaign to pressure Ford to take
action. In a report on NBC's "Dateline" about the pervasive harassment,
Chicago NOW President Lorna Brett said, "It's like the Wild, Wild West
in these plants. There are no rules. It's whatever you want-just take it."
NOW's Women-Friendly Workplace
Campaign is poised to take action against Ford Motor Company. "We are
working closely with Chicago NOW to determine our national strategy to
address the latest allegations against an auto industry giant," Ireland
"Merchants of Shame" Cases Settled
The Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign,
which is dedicated to eliminating discrimination on the job, already has
had a tremendous impact in two landmark class-action lawsuits involving
securities firm Smith Barney and auto-maker Mitsubishi. Both cases ended
in unprecedented settlements for the named plaintiffs as well as the women
members of the class.
The EEOC estimates that some 350
current and former employees of Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing plant in
Normal, Ill., will receive payments of up to $300,000-the maximum allowed
under a federal cap on damages for sex discrimination. (NOW
continues to urge the removal of this unfair cap that limits women s compensation
for the harm they have suffered.) Coupled with last year's $9.5 million
settlement of a private lawsuit filed against the company by 27 women,
sexual harassment will have cost the company millions of dollars in litigation
costs-not to mention the uncounted toll on productivity due to the hostile
In the Smith Barney case, the first class-action sex discrimination
suit filed against a Wall Street firm, United States District Judge Constance
Baker Motley approved a settlement which, over the next two years, will
give an estimated 23,000 women access to an alternative dispute resolution
process with an unlimited fund to compensate them for losses and damages,
including punitive damages. Although the women are not entitled to
a jury trial, Judge Motley found that the settlement was fair. The
women's compensation is not limited by the $300,000 cap, and the process
covers complaints against the firm all the way back to May 1993, many of
which would have been thrown out of federal court because of the statute
of limitations. Any class member has the right to opt-out of the alternative
process and proceed with her own claim.
Progress on Wall Street
Succumbing to NOW's public pressure campaign and to the private litigation
against it, the Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC) announced its plan to remove the mandatory arbitration requirement
it imposes on securities industry workers as a condition of employment.
The policy change will take effect on Jan. 1, 1999.
But, as NOW Action Vice President
Elizabeth Toledo reminded a congressional committee, individual brokerage
houses can still maintain the requirement for their own employees.
"Senators, it is incumbent upon you to reaffirm your commitment to
the civil rights laws of this country . . .I urge you to right the wrongs
suffered by so many women and people of color by ending mandatory arbitration
-- first in the securities industry -- and ultimately in every industry
throughout the country," Toledo told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban
In making the announcement, SEC Chair
Arthur Levitt urged the New York Stock Exchange
(NYSE) and other self-policing bodies of the industry to follow suit. Subsequently,
the NYSE adopted a similar measure when its board met in September.
"While we should celebrate these Women-Friendly
Workplace Campaign victories, the battles against mandatory arbitration
and sexual harassment are far from over. We must make it our business
to convince employers that forced arbitration will be bad for their
business," Ireland concluded.
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