Ford CEO Jim Hackett apologizes for Chicago plant's sexual harassment

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USA TODAY

Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett apologized to employees for what he called “gut-wrenching” accounts of sexual harassment at two plants in Chicago, documented this week by the New York Times.

The report cited crude comments by male workers about female workers’ breasts and buttocks, and graffiti of penises carved into tables and spray-painted on floors, as well as physical assaults over many years that have already cost the company. 

It wasn’t the first time women at Ford factories had brought such complaints. The company paid a $10-million settlement after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission presented complaints of sexual and racial harassment.

Hackett himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing; the harassment cases date back years and he only became CEO in May.

 

Hackett’s letter to employees pledged that he will act to stop such behavior and warned  anyone caught harassing coworkers that “we don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this.”

In 1999, a similar EEOC case ended with Ford paying $22 million and promising to crack down.

A separate lawsuit based on similar accusations is pending. 

“I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct,” Hackett wrote. “On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.”

Knowing that the New York Times story was coming, Ford on Tuesday began running a 2 minute and 40 second video message on repeating loops throughout all 24 of its U.S. factories. The video featured Bruce Hettle, head of global manufacturing, and Jimmy Settles, UAW vice president assigned to Ford. The messages will be repeated indefinitely, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“There is absolutely no room for harassment at Ford,” Hackett’s letter continued. “We don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this. Our promise is there will be no retaliation against anyone who speaks up, and no one is above the rules, no matter where they are in the hierarchy. This is absolute. We have zero tolerance for any behavior like this, and we will stamp it out together.”

Ford has two plants on Chicago’s south side near the Indiana border. An assembly plant there, which opened in 1924, employs about 4,000. A nearby stamping plant, opened in 1956, employs about 1,270, according to the company’s website.

In addition to the newest video, Hackett said Ford has spent 20,000 hours on employee training at the Chicago plants to reinforce a standard of mutual respect. The company also has hired people whose main job is to oversee and investigate reports of harassment or discrimination.

Hackett also said he will go to the Chicago plants early in the new year to tell workers that “when they leave for work in the morning, they and their families can expect that they are coming to an environment that is safe, respectful and motivating them to do the best job possible.”

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