SCHENECTADY Officials with General Electric pushed back Wednesday against a federal race and gender discrimination lawsuit filed this week by a black, female former employee, citing two federal investigations that failed to support her accusations.
Company officials also rebutted her accusations of discrimination, issuing a statement saying the company is “committed to a workplace based on respect and fairness to all employees.”
The attorney for Yvonne W. Alex, however, countered that the two investigations weren’t comprehensive. Regardless, attorney Eric Sanders said they don’t get to the heart of his client’s accusations.
In General Electric’s statement Wednesday, the company said it has a “strong fair employment practices policy that strictly prohibits all forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment.”
“Any employee found to be in violation of this policy is subject to severe discipline, including termination of employment,” the statement reads. “Notably, both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have investigated almost identical claims raised by Ms. Alex and dismissed them outright. We are confident that the plaintiff’s nearly identical claims now made again by Ms. Alex in this lawsuit will also be dismissed.”
The company provided documents from both agencies. The OSHA report, dated Sept. 2, 2011, found against Alex’ claim of retaliation, finding she improperly refused to perform a task.
However, the EEOC report formally closing its file and dismissing its case, dated March 29, 2012, simply reads: “Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”
General Electric officials said the EEOC didn’t find wrongdoing and dismissed Alex’ claims, but they said the language is standard in that it leaves open the possibility for the individual to pursue a lawsuit.
“GE’s intent would be to leverage these findings in these court actions,” a company spokeswoman said.
The OSHA report also cited suspensions handed out by GE in 2009 to two employees “for writing offensive comments on a dumpster.” The two employees were each suspended for five days that October and given “final warnings.”
Alex filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Albany, seeking $50 million in damages. General Electric is named as a defendant along with 13 individual employees whom Alex accuses of either perpetrating the discrimination or failing to properly investigate or respond to her complaints.
Alex claims sexual harassment, race discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment, all against General Electric. Similar allegations are made against each of the named employees.
Alex began work at GE Energy in 1981 and continued to work there until September 2011, when she was terminated on accusations that she was a “disruptive employee,” according to Sanders.
Alex alleges in the suit that throughout her time at GE, she and other employees were treated differently because of their gender and race. They were passed over for positions in favor of less-qualified white, male employees and were paid less, she alleges.
The suit also claims that GE hired three former employees of Super Steel sometime after July 2006. The three employees, according to the suit against GE, were implicated in “serious racially offensive actions against several African American employees.”
Super Steel in 2006 settled a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit filed by nine black employees for $1.75 million, money ultimately distributed among 13 individuals.
Several of the allegations in the lawsuit stem from alleged racist depictions of President Barack Obama directed at the employee, including “a brown monkey hanging by its blue cape” on one of the alleged perpetrator’s lockers only days before the president’s January 2011 visit to the company.
The depiction, however, was no longer there during a Secret Service security sweep of the locker room, according to the lawsuit.
Sanders said Wednesday that neither the OSHA nor EEOC investigations were comprehensive. Both, he said, were “all done on paper.”
Sanders also referenced an allegation in the lawsuit in which Alex contends she was almost injured on the job by the actions of one of the accused employees. Sanders said OSHA did not consider that incident, which happened four months prior to the January 2010 issue addressed by the federal agency.
Sanders also argued that the two reports don’t get to the heart of the allegations Alex made.
“If they’re defending their lawsuit like this, then I can’t wait to win,” Sanders said Wednesday evening.