PORTLAND, Ore. – Daimler Trucks North America agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle discrimination complaints filed by six minority workers who said they were subjected to threats and racial slurs at the company’s Portland plant.
Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, announced the deal on Thursday. His office said the monetary settlement is easily the largest in the history of the agency’s Civil Rights Division. The investigation began last year and included interviews with 60 current and former employees.
“We know that some of the incidents that were occurring stretched back over a decade, but the significant thing as well is that it was continuing right up until recent months,” he said.
The complaints against the subsidiary of German automotive giant Daimler AG included an allegation that an employee threatened a black worker with a noose and said he’d drag the man behind a truck. Among other complaints, employees said they were called names such as “boy,” ”buckwheat” and the N-word, and the company allowed intimidating graffiti, including a swastika, to remain in the bathroom.
Meanwhile, a Native American worker said he faced harassment and his supervisor pushed him against a truck while challenging him to a fight. A black employee who is gay said he was repeatedly harassed because of his race and sexual orientation.
“We’d like to think discrimination and harassment just doesn’t occur anymore, but the truth is that it does,” Avakian said.
Brian Burton, the general counsel for Daimler Trucks North America, said the company co-operated with the investigation and is “committed to diversity and inclusion.” Five other employees declined to participate in the settlement and plan to take their cases to court. Burton said it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation.
The $2.4 million settlement will be split by the six workers, and includes attorney fees and a fund for any future complaints. The employees all agreed to leave the company and never reapply.
Mark Morrell, an attorney for three workers who settled, said his clients were not ready to comment. Morrell also represents four of the five employees who withdrew their Bureau of Labor and Industries complaints in order to file civil lawsuits in county court.
“The people who didn’t settle had other issues that we didn’t get resolved,” he said. “I just don’t think the company knows enough about some of the claims.”
Daimler Trucks North America employs more than 20,000 employees in North America.
Morrell said he believes the company is trying to improve the workplace. “It’s been going on for decades, long before Daimler bought it. They just walked into it,” he said, referring to Daimler AG’s 1980s purchase of Freightliner Trucks.
Besides the monetary settlement, Daimler Trucks agreed to the following measures:
— Install a civil rights complaint hotline for workers.
— Require supervisor training.
— Train at least two managers to conduct internal investigations.
— Maintain a supervisor logbook for any future incidents.
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