A History of Sexual Harassment at Two Chicago Ford Plants Getty Images

A History of Sexual Harassment at Two Chicago Ford Plants

The recent sexual harassment complaints at two Chicago Ford plants stir up memories of a $9 million settlement there.

Earlier this month, a class-action lawsuit charging Ford Motor Co. with sexual harassment was expanded to include complaints from a total of 33 women working at two Chicago-area plants--the Torrence Avenue Assembly Plant on the city’s South Side and the stamping plant in Chicago Heights. The lawsuit calls Ford a “recidivist offender that has willfully ignored the issues and evidence raised in prior litigation and EEOC findings,” citing a culture of sexual harassment in the 1990s that bears similarities to the current complaints.

Here is a thumbnail history of sexual harassment at the two plants:

1994-98

The EEOC investigated Ford’s stamping plant in Chicago Heights and its Torrence Avenue Assembly Plant on Chicago’s South Side in 1994-1995 and again in 1998. The EEOC’s findings stated:

The evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that a class of female employees at Ford’s Chicago area manufacturing facilities … has been subjected to sexual harassment by managers and nonmanagers. The women have been called sexually degrading names … as well as being subjected to other profanity. They have been physically touched, grabbed and groped, and have had body parts massaged without their consent. They have had to endure sexual comments and innuendos including suggestive references to female body parts and their functions.

In addition, the women have been subjected to sexually explicit graffiti, including drawings of male and female genitalia with sexual terms and, at times, references to specific named women throughout the facilities. The presence of other pornographic materials such as calendars and other pictures of nude women also contributes to the hostile and sexually offensive environment.

1997

Fourteen female workers at the Torrence Avenue plant filed a class-action lawsuit against Ford in the case Warnell V. Ford Motor Company in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The women said they were verbally assaulted with derogatory and sexist language.

2000

The complaint was settled, with Ford paying a $9 million settlement and having to introduce new training methods to prevent sexual harassment. The plants also had to undergo three years of oversight and Ford had to invest $10 million in sexual harassment prevention training at the sites.

2003

Oversight of Chicago plants ends. A report by outside monitors states that “Ford’s current success in controlling harassment in the plants is no guarantee of future success.” The report listed five potential weaknesses, including holes in labor relations investigations, no written policy on dating between supervisors and the workers they supervise, and inadequate refresher training.

November 2014

Four women filed a class-action complaint against Ford claiming harassment at the Chicago Assembly Plant. The complaint called Ford “a recidivist offender that has willfully ignored the issues and evidence raised in prior litigation, prior Determinations and EEOC findings and has failed to take measures to eradicate known discrimination and harassment from the workplace.”

May 2015

Thirty more women come forward with claims and are added to the 2014 complaint, which alleges “an ongoing pattern and practice of sexual harassment and discrimination at the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Ford Chicago Stamping Plant spanning more than two decades.”  The complaint states that the harassment included sexual assault and attempted rape; sexually explicit and demeaning graffiti and pornographic images in public areas of the plant; requests for sexual favors; jeers, lewd comments, sexual suggestions and catcalls;  and being admonished for complaining and told not to complain or use the company’s sexual harassment hotline. Ford said in a statement that it has a “zero tolerance policy” for sexual harassment.

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