by George Rede
September 18, 2015
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Daimler Trucks North America is located on Swan Island. (Mark Graves/Staff)
Two African American women have filed a $1 million lawsuit in Portland alleging they were subjected to racially hostile work conditions at Daimler Trucks North America.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court is the fifth in the past year accusing Daimler of race, age or national origin discrimination and continues a pattern of similar complaints against the company filed with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.
David Giroux, a spokesman for the German-owned company, declined to comment Friday on the newest allegations or the complaints as a whole, citing a corporate policy against commenting on the specifics of pending litigation.
The North Portland truck manufacturer has found itself on the defensive since October 2014, when a 58-year-old engineer filed a $3.75 million suit accusing the company of age discrimination after he was let go after 16 years on the job.
The spotlight was turned up this year when the company agreed in January to pay a record $2.4 million to settle complaints filed by six former workers who said they were the objects of racist or homophobic slurs, Nazi graffiti and threats at Daimler's Western Star truck manufacturing plant on Swan Island.
Since that state-brokered settlement, four more lawsuits have been filed against the company in circuit court.
In February, four current or former African-American employees filed a $9.5 million lawsuit, claiming they were targeted with nooses, greeted with a "Heil Hitler" salute or otherwise harassed on the job.
In April, a 75-year-old Egyptian-born engineer filed a $2 million lawsuit, claiming his supervisor mocked his accent and often called him "bin Laden" in front of co-workers or clients.
In July, a 40-year-old Asian American data center manager filed a $250,000 suit, alleging he was mistreated because of his race and age and passed over for promotions given to younger, less qualified white employees.
In Wednesday's lawsuit, one current employee and one recent retiree accused the company and four of its managers of taking no action in response to their complaints of racial discrimination.
Elnora Riley, a 56-year-old truck production worker, alleges that her supervisors continually questioned her ability to do assigned tasks and made groundless complaints and rude comments about her work.
Since the 1990s, the suit claims, "a group of a half dozen or so white co-workers have been involved with racially charged incidents, racially insulting and derogatory language and graffiti, including threats of violence" targeted at minority workers.
These co-workers have displayed nooses in the work area and parking lots and stuffed chicken bones in a co-worker's locker, Riley alleges.
Riller Clegg, a 66-year-old retiree, cites similar behavior by co-workers beginning in 2003 and alleges she and other African American employees were ridiculed or demeaned when they asked for help.
She says she was forced to do difficult tasks alone, often without needed tools, while white co-workers doing the same tasks were routinely provided with assistance.
Each woman seeks $500,000 in damages.
Three of the five lawsuits filed in the past year originated from civil rights complaints filed with the Bureau of Labor Industries, which enforces Oregon's anti-discrimination laws.
Since January 2014, the bureau has received 17 complaints accusing Daimler of discriminatory behavior toward minority employees. The four most recent cases were dismissed after the bureau found no substantial evidence to support the allegations.
Among them were complaints brought by Riley and Clegg, the two plaintiffs in this week's civil lawsuit.
Mark Morrell, a Portland attorney who represents the women and many of the other aggrieved workers, said Friday that the bureau's action has no bearing on the merits of the newest lawsuit.
"(The bureau) gets it wrong a lot and they're buried," he said. "People should understand I'm not required to go to BOLI. I go to (them) because it helps sometimes and it's free. But I can proceed to court anytime I want."
Charlie Burr, a spokesman for the labor bureau, said the agency is committed to fair treatment of Daimler employees as well as to an investigative process that examines the specifics of each complaint.
He said the bureau is making ongoing site visits to the company under terms of the settlement agreed to in January. Daimler agreed then to install a civil rights complaint hotline for workers and train managers to address any future incidents.
-- George Rede