Daimler Trucks to Pay $2.4 Million to Settle Racial Harassment Charges at Oregon Plant

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By Paul Shukovsky

Feb. 2 — Daimler Trucks North America will pay $2.4 million to settle complaints filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that black employees have been subjected for decades to a hostile work environment including threats of violence by assailants holding nooses, racial epithets and a swastika etched into a bathroom wall.

The settlement with the Portland, Ore., company—a business unit of Daimler AG with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany—is the largest in the history of BOLI's Civil Rights Division, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian told Bloomberg BNA in a telephone interview Jan. 30.

The company still faces unresolved complaints from at least five additional workers who filed complaints with BOLI but later withdrew them with the intention of pursuing the matter in court, according to a BOLI statement. The six employees named in the BOLI settlement will get varying payouts ranging up $1 million. About 800 people work at the Portland truck factory.

“Daimler has had this problem going on in its workplace for some time,” Avakian said. His complaint filed Sept. 25, 2014, said Daimler “was aware of unlawful discrimination against its minority employees and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Minority employees report decades of discriminatory treatment that Respondent failed to correct.”

‘Complaints Multi-Generational.’

In an Oct. 9, 2013, incident in which a white worker confronted a black employee in the parking lot with a noose and said he would drag the employee behind a car, Daimler “failed to take appropriate disciplinary action against the coworker prior to his retirement,” Avakian wrote in his complaint.

Portland attorney Mark Morrell—who obtained a $1 million award for the worker threatened in the parking lot—told Bloomberg BNA in a telephone interview Feb. 2 about a janitor at the Portland truck manufacturing plant who found a swastika on the wall of a toilet stall. Morrell said “it was a long time” before Daimler painted over the swastika and the etched image remained clearly visible. Meanwhile, the janitor was forced to clean up feces smeared around the stall, the attorney said.

“The complaints are multigenerational,” Morrell. He said endemic racism at the plant existed even before Daimler bought the plant. Daimler-Benz AG purchased Freightliner from Consolidated Freightways in 1981, according to Daimler Trucks North America spokesman David Giroux.

No Admission of Liability

The truck company in Portland said in Feb. 2 e-mail: “A settlement is not an admission of liability. Daimler Trucks North America trains its managers to take appropriate proportional disciplinary action when employees of the company violate our anti-discrimination policies. If managers fail to take appropriate disciplinary action, they are subject to discipline.”

Daimler Trucks still faces unresolved complaints from at least five additional workers who filed complaints with BOLI but later withdrew them with the intention of pursuing the matter in court, according to a BOLI statement.

After the commissioner filed his complaint, Avakian said, “Daimler came to the table and said they wanted to do whatever was necessary in order to make it right.” Among the remedies Avakian proposed that were included in a conciliation agreement with Daimler are mandatory supervisor training, logbook records of future incidents and installation of a civil-rights complaint hotline.

“We've suggested the use of hotlines to employers before,” Avakian said. “This is the first time I've included one in an order or binding agreement. One of the reasons I included it in the agreement is that the Bureau of Labor is going to have access to both that and supervisor logs on any incident that occurs. So we're going to be able to monitor first hand what's happening.”

Morrell said he represents four people who intend to pursue claims against Daimler outside the BOLI process.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Shukovsky in Seattle at pshukovsky@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the conciliation agreement is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=smgk-9tcuxb and the commissioner's complaint at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=smgk-9tcuya.