Daimler, Oregon Bureau of Labor settle discrimination lawsuits for $2.4 million

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 1/29/2015

Daimler Trucks North America has agreed to pay the largest monetary settlement in the history of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries’ Civil Rights division history. The settlement of $2.4 million will go to the bureau and to six former employees who say they were victims of discrimination.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian announced the settlement on Thursday via press release. The agreement between the truck manufacturer and its former employees comes after labor department investigators interviewed more than 60 current and former Daimler employees and supervisors, and reviewed hundreds of documents pertaining to the North Portland truck plant’s operations.

Employees initially filed complaints alleging they were discriminated against based on their race, and in some instances their age, according to documents provided by the Bureau of Labor and Industries. BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr said that five employee complaints were withdrawn so that those individuals could pursue civil litigation instead.

“Today’s settlement sends a strong message that every Oregonian deserves a workplace free from discrimination,” Avakian said in a statement. “It’s difficult for any worker to step forward in the face of a hostile work environment – and I’m pleased that our agency was able help the parties achieve a just and fair outcome. Throughout the investigation, Daimler fully cooperated with our investigators and took the issues seriously. This settlement and compliance agreement will put Daimler on stronger footing so that it can continue to contribute to our region’s economy while providing equal opportunities for its current and future workforce.”

The $2.4 million will be divided between complainants Harold Lathan, Terence Edwards, Ron Burley, Sean Tomkin, Leneld Hammond and Kerry Barker, and includes complainant attorney fees and a fund for future complaints.

Avakian also filed a separate complaint on behalf of the minority workers. According to terms of the settlement, $190,000 will be set aside with the BOLI in a fund for as yet unidentified employees or ex-employees who come forward with substantial evidence of harm arising from similar discrimination complaints.

The commissioner’s complaint states the employees were “subject to conduct of a verbal and physical nature based on their race, color and/or national origin that was severe and pervasive and unreasonably interfered with their work performance and created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment.”

The Portland facility is where Daimler manufactures its Western Star trucks. The company employs around 20,000 people in North America.

The employee complaints detail allegations of repeated verbal and physical harassment of black workers at the plant, including the use of racial slurs, Nazi-themed graffiti, and physical altercations with white coworkers. The complaints also state that many of the workers felt they were overlooked for promotions, given “undesirable” jobs, and were subjected to a “pattern and practice of ignoring blatant racial harassment and intimidation” against black employees.

Five of the six employees received between $35,000 and $472,500 each. Lathan received $1 million. Lathan’s initial complaint claimed that his white coworkers would call him names such as “Toby” or “boy” and on at least two occasions he was physically accosted by white coworkers. On two separate incidents in September and November 2013, another white coworker harassed him with a rope fashioned into a noose.

Daimler released a statement on Thursday saying the company “fully cooperated” with investigators, and that in addition to the financial compensation the settlement includes “additional compliance measures” to promote a harassment and discrimination-free workplace. 

Those stipulations include the following:

  • Installation of a civil rights complaint hotline for workers;
  • Supervisor logbooks for any future incidents;
  • Mandatory supervisor trainings conducted by BOLI or a BOLI-approved entity; and
  • Training for at least two designated managers to conduct internal investigations to address any future incidents.

In addition, all logbooks and hotline recordings will be available to BOLI during the three-year monitoring term of the agreement.

“Daimler Trucks North America is committed to diversity and inclusion including strict attention to the enforcement of human resource policies and guidelines that govern many aspects of our work lives, as well as compliance with federal and local employment laws and regulations,” Brian Burton, General Counsel, Daimler Trucks North America, said in the release. “We are pleased that we were able to resolve the matter with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the parties involved.”

A Daimler spokesman declined to comment on the pending civil cases of those employees who rejected the settlement.

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