‘It Was Like Being at War’: Former GM Employee Recalls Praying for Protection In Hostile Work Environment with Nooses, ‘White Only’ Signs


Managers at the General Motors powertrain plant in Toledo took little to no action to quell the “underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying” against Black employees, a shocking new lawsuit alleges.

“I used to have to pray. Literally, ‘Lord protect me,'” Marcus Boyd, a former supervisor at the plant, recently told CNN. “It was like being at war.”

GM Plant Racism
GM officials insist the company took swift action after learning of the racist harassment. However, an investigation by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission determined otherwise. (Image courtesy of CNN)

From day one, Boyd said he was subjected to racist insults, slights and even threats from co-workers at his Ohio workplace. He described the environment as hostile, recalling how the restrooms were supposedly “whites-only” and how Black employees were repeatedly called “monkeys” or told to “go back to Africa.”

These allegations, and others, simply scratch the surface of incidents  detailed in a lawsuit filed against GM by eight employees. Boyd, who claims his subordinates regularly ignored his instructions and called him the N-word, soon realized he wasn’t the only one experiencing the racist workplace harassment.

Fellow Black supervisor Derrick Brooks recalled the day he found a noose hanging in the area where he worked. As the only African-American employee in that space on his shift, Brooks said he knew the noose was meant to intimidate him.

“Being in the military, I know plenty about knots,” he said. “And I know there is no reason whatsoever to tie a knot like that other than to use it for hanging a person.”

It wasn’t long before a second, third, fourth and fifth noose were found and all reported to GM. For many, it was a breaking point. However, GM’s handling of the alleged harassment only stood to make matters worse.

Boyd said he took his complaints to upper management after a white employee he oversaw told him, “Back in the day, you would’ve been buried with a shovel.” According to CNN, the worker in question was subjected to a disciplinary hearing with a union manager, where he freely admitted to what he’d said — and got off scot-free. Boyd, however, was pulled to the side and advised to let the matter go if he wanted to get along at the plant.

Then there was the time Boyd said an employee tried attacking him with a heavy metal clutch assembly after growing angry about a vacation request. His punishment? Losing one day’s salary.

The frustrated supervisor and several others, including Brooks, continued reporting the racial abuse only to be told to handle the matter themselves. GM denied this, however, and insists it took swift action upon learning of the harassment.

“Every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are integral to the fabric of our culture,” the company said in a statement. “Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and are in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work.

“We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive,” it continued. “General Motors is taking this matter seriously and addressing it through the appropriate court process.”

Brooks said the company replaced all the ropes in the plant with yellow chains in an effort to quell the noose incidents, but Black employees weren’t impressed and said not enough was being done. Other workers filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which launched a nine-month investigation last year and determined that GM had indeed fostered a hostile, racist work environment.

“GM did not deny that these things were taking place,” said Darlene Sweeney-Newbern, the commission’s director of regional operations. “They simply said, ‘Hey, as soon as we heard of these things we moved in and we took action.’ That’s not what we found in the investigation.”

Boyd and Brooks have since quit their jobs at the plant but said they’ve heard the racial harassment is still happening, an assertion confirmed when the Associated Press reported Thursday that Michelle Vocht, another attorney for plaintiffs in the suit against GM, said just this week an employee found a racist drawing and a monkey doll near his workstation.

So far, GM hasn’t identified the persons responsible for hanging the nooses nor has anyone been fired in connection with the incidents, CNN reported. However, a company spokesman said some people have been dismissed in Toledo as the company continues its extensive anti-discrimination, anti-harassment efforts.

The company also said the police are now involved in the investigation.

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