Top managers, union leaders out at Chicago Assembly Plant

Vehicles wait for final assembly at the Ford plant in Chicago. Top managers and a union leader have been removed after a second sexual harassment lawsuit last year.

CHICAGO | Ford has replaced all the top managers at its Chicago Assembly Plant and had temporarily suspended a top union leader in the wake of a second sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed in November.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker paid $19.5 million when settling a previous sexual harassment lawsuit at the Hegewisch factory in 2000, but a new group of female autoworkers came forward last year to say they had been subjected to lewd remarks, sexual propositions and other abuse, and they were told to stop calling the harassment hotline that was established after the first lawsuit.

In March, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found evidence of sexual harassment and racial discrimination at the factory at 126th Street and Torrence Avenue.

Ford has since replaced the plant manager, human relations department and labor relations office at the automotive factory, where around 4,000 people work. As many as eight top managers are no longer employed at the plant.

"Ford's senior leadership rotates career assignments based on the needs of the company," Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski said in answer to a Times inquiry about the management changes. 

Ford temporarily suspended the chair of the bargaining committee, who the lawsuit alleged was one of the harassers. United Auto Workers bargaining committee chairman Allen "Coby" Millender was temporarily suspended but has since returned to work and remains chairman.

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The UAW is challenging the Millender's suspension.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleged Millender held a meeting where he identified one of the women who complained about sexual harassment to about 200 of her co-workers. The men in turn allegedly repeatedly left pictures of male genitalia in her workspace. He is also alleged to have told a female colleague who complained of sexual harassment to "bring those pretty lips" to lunch with him in his office, and to have threatened to move her to the least desirable shift if she didn't comply.

Four female employees alleged in their class action suit they were groped, subjected to unwanted requests for sexual favors, and harassed by male colleagues who exposed their genitals or showed them cell phone pictures of their genitals in some cases.

The lawsuit further alleged supervisors told the women to forget instances of sexual harassment and retaliated against complaints by dismissing them from work assignments, accusing them of violating safety rules and suspending them without pay. The women say they were repeatedly disciplined and denied overtime after coming forward with complaints of discrimination. 

Ford has not yet filed its formal response to the complaint with the court, instead requesting leave to wait for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, which they did on May 1.

*This story has been corrected from the original version.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.