Black workers at GM plant where nooses were found allege racial harassment is ongoing

"I left because it got to a point where I didn’t want to deal with the racial tension and toxic environment anymore," one former worker told NBC News.
Image: A noose at a GM plant in Toledo, Ohio.
A noose at a GM plant in Toledo, Ohio.Roy, Shecter and Vocht

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By Janelle Griffith

A lawyer for black workers suing General Motors over alleged racial bullying at an Ohio plant where nooses were found two years ago claims the harassment there is ongoing.

"The hostile environment has continued and reached a retaliatory level," said Michelle Vocht, a lawyer representing a group of black current and former workers at the Toledo plant who sued the automaker in April 2018.

The suit alleged the company failed to take prompt corrective action after black employees at the GM Powertrain and Fabrications plant reported acts of racism, such as the hanging of nooses and "whites only" bathroom signs.

Now Vocht said she is preparing to amend the complaint because the alleged racial harassment is still happening.

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The most recent alleged incident was Wednesday, when one worker at the plant found a monkey doll and a racist drawing near his work station, Vocht said.

"If somebody was stealing parts, they would clamp down on that," Vocht said of GM. "But here they are, stealing my clients' civil rights and they don’t take that as seriously."

Derrick Brooks, 48, said he worked at the Toledo plant for about two years. In March of 2017, Brooks said he found a noose hanging in his department.

"The reason I feel confident it was aimed at me is because I was the only black supervisor in that department working on that shift," Brooks told NBC News on Thursday. "I left because it got to a point where I didn’t want to deal with the racial tension and toxic environment anymore."

The pending lawsuit that was filed last year in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio accuses General Motors of allowing an "underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying."

Graffiti scrawled in a bathroom at a GM plant in Toledo, Ohio.Roy, Shecter and Vocht

The lawsuit alleges black workers were called racial slurs and that some white coworkers wore shirts underneath their coveralls with visible Nazi symbols on them.

Some black workers also claim they were told “to be careful” because a white employee’s “daddy was in the Klu Klux Klan," the lawsuit says.

The workers are seeking unspecified punitive damages and asking in their complaint that the company take certain measures at the plant, including installing cameras and monitors in the workplace and increasing security.

General Motors has said it treats any reported incident with "sensitivity and urgency" and has taken several steps to address harassment at the plant.

“Our investigation continues and there is an accompanying police investigation also,” a company spokesman told NBC News on Thursday. “At this point, the investigations have yet to identify the responsible individual(s).”