Investigation into discrimination at Daimler may wrap soon

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, December 02, 2014

An investigation into multiple allegations of racial and age-based discrimination at Daimler Trucks North America Plant in Portland, Ore., could be nearing an end, according to a spokesman for the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Charlie Burr, communications director with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, said that while investigations can take up to a year to conclude, the state is hoping to finish its investigation by the end of the year.

“Realistically, we don’t anticipate the investigations into Daimler will take a year,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “We think the first round may be wrapped up in a month or two. … We’re moving quickly with the investigations. We’ve already contacted employees and conducted on-site (interviews).”

A total of nine employees have 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.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian also filed a separate complaint on behalf of the minority workers on Sept. 25. Copies of the press release and least five of the complaints can be viewed at the Bureau of Labor and Industries website, here.

After the commissioner’s complaint was filed on Oct. 1, five other employees stepped forward, detailing similar allegations of harassment.

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 themselves 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.

In one instance on or about Oct. 9, 2013, a white coworker threatened an African American employee with a noose and stated he would drag the employee behind his car. The complaint states that the company “failed to take appropriate disciplinary action” against the man prior to his retirement.

Each complaint states that the employees met with human resources representatives at the company, but alleges no substantive changes were made to address the harassing conduct. 

A spokesman for Daimler Trucks said the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based truck manufacturer is cooperating with investigators, and that the company has a “zero tolerance policy” related to discrimination or harassment on any basis.

“DTNA continues to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations, and in addition to working closely with the (Bureau of Labor and Industries), has hired an independent outside investigator to ensure objectivity from the company’s perspective in assessing the alleged facts in each of the cases,” Daimler spokesman David Giroux said in a statement emailed to Land Line.

Giroux also stated that the company has its own code of conduct for employees, which specifically prohibits discrimination as well as retaliation against individuals who make good faith complaints of behavior that would violate the policy.

Burr said the next step after the investigation concludes would be to get both the complainants and the company into a settlement through a process called conciliation. If that fails, an administrative prosecution unit could file formal charges against the company.

“When we go into these investigations, we go in not as advocates but rather to find evidence. What can be demonstrated,” he said. “Depending on what the evidence shows, there could be monetary or wage damages, ongoing monitoring of the facility, training to ensure compliance, but all of that will be determined after the investigations are wrapped up, if in fact we find substantial evidence (of discrimination).”

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