Ford assembly plant faces repeated sexual harassment case: Part II

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 24, 2014

Last week, we began a discussion about an allegedly major sexual harassment problem at a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in the Midwest. Although the case did not occur here in California, it is seemingly an example of the type of workplace culture that often exists in manufacturing and factory jobs around the country.

The case is especially noteworthy because Ford was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the late 1990s for the hostile work environment in one of its Chicago plants. The lawsuit was settled for millions of dollars plus an agreement to improve sexual harassment training and to submit to three years of compliance monitoring.

During the time that the company was monitored, Ford apparently did an excellent job in fighting the established culture of sexual harassment. The company even invested $10 million to implement “comprehensive sexual harassment training and procedures,” according to news sources.

In 2003, the monitoring came to an end and Ford was left with a 30-page report. It was complimentary, but it informed Ford about some warning signs that had been observed by the monitors. Some of the five “significant risks” identified included:

  • The possibility that sexual harassment “refresher training” may begin to lapse
  • The fact that the company had no formal policy about supervisors dating subordinates who reported to them
  • The risk that members of the company’s labor relations department might conduct inadequate investigations into sexual harassment complaints

Tellingly, the report warned that “Ford’s current success in controlling sexual harassment in the plants is no guarantee of future success. . . The company must assure that there is no dilution over time in the vigor with which its zero-tolerance policy is disseminated and enforced.”

When discussing the most recent allegations of sexual harassment (which are very similar to those made in the first case), former monitors said that they believe the warning issued by the report is exactly what happened. Ford may have become complacent about its policies and training as soon as the three-year monitoring period ended.

In any workplace environment that faces sexual harassment litigation, a culture change cannot be sustained without a serious and ongoing commitment to anti-harassment training and well-enforced policies. Ford likely did not learn its lesson the first time, and the company’s complacency may now result in more litigation and potentially millions of dollars in additional fines.

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business, “Once eradicated, harassment issues return at Ford plant,” Meribah Knight, Nov. 17, 2014