Canadian Manufacturing

Oregon expands inquiry into racial bias, threats at Daimler plant

Nine civil rights complaints have been brought against Portland-headquartered Daimler Trucks North America



PORTLAND, Ore.—Oregon has expanded its investigation into discrimination at the Portland truck-making plant of German automotive giant Daimler AG after four more employees came forward with allegations of racial harassment.

The four new civil rights complaints against Portland-headquartered Daimler Trucks North America LLC bring the total to nine, all filed over the past few weeks.

The state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating the complaints, which allege discrimination as far back as 1994.

The four new complaints include allegations of racial discrimination against African-American employees.

They also say a Native American worker faced harassment and threats of physical violence when his supervisor pushed him against a truck and challenged him to a fight.

The four workers also claim unfair treatment based on race, national origin and age; use of racial slurs against black employees; retaliation; and failure of management to take action to improve Daimler’s workplace.

At least one complaint says the person was forced to leave his position because of working conditions at the Portland facility.

In a statement, Daimler Trucks said it doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment on any basis and is committed to diversity and inclusion.

The company is fully co-operating with the investigation and has hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations, the statement from Daimler Trucks spokesperson David Giroux said.

Three weeks ago, Oregon’s labour commissioner, Brad Avakian, filed a complaint after four initial complaints were filed by employees at the Portland plant, alleging they were subjected to racial slurs and physical threats.

A fifth employee filed a complaint shortly afterward.

Among those allegations is that a Daimler Trucks employee threatened a black co-worker with a noose, saying he’d drag the African-American behind a car, records show.

Another alleges there’s a swastika carved into a bathroom door.

Avakian said the company has a history of civil rights complaints.

One complaint alleging discrimination based on national origin was filed in January and settled earlier this year.

In addition, at least 26 other civil rights complaints have been filed from 2002 to 2013 against the Portland truck division—some were settled, some moved to state or federal court, and others were closed due to lack of evidence or because the investigation was taken over by another agency.

“Our investigators will see whether there’s evidence of a pattern of oppression, of assaults, of racial epithets, and whether the long history of abusive conduct is still affecting the workplace today. And I believe it is,” Avakian said.

In addition to the commissioner’s complaint, each of the nine employee complaints will be investigated separately, he said.

Investigators may take up to a year to determine whether there’s substantial evidence of discrimination, but the investigation into Daimler’s practices is likely to be quick and could be concluded before the end of the year, Avakian said.

The Oregon-based truck company is a subsidiary of Daimler, a German multinational corporation that also makes Mercedes-Benz automobiles.

Earlier this year, Daimler Trucks broke ground on a new US$150-million headquarters in Portland.

When it announced its plans last year, Daimler said it expected to add up to 400 white-collar jobs when construction is complete, expected in 2016.

At the time, its Portland workforce was 2,800, including about 750 people in blue-collar manufacturing jobs making Western Star trucks.

The truck division employs more than 20,000 employees in North America.

Daimler also has manufacturing facilities in Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mexico.

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