A black woman formerly employed by General Electric filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against the company this week, alleging a pattern of racial and gender discrimination at GE’s downtown Schenectady plant.
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.
Yvonne W. Alex, of Schenectady County, 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 her attorney, Eric Sanders.
“It’s something that no worker should have to experience, especially in 2012,” Sanders said Tuesday of the allegations.
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 13 named employees. The suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Albany.
A spokeswoman for General Electric declined to comment on the suit, saying the company generally does not comment on pending litigation.
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.
Specific incidents alleged in the General Electric suit began in 2008 and were tied to that year’s election. That year, Alex allegedly found on her desk “Birther” packages. She alleges in the suit that “the focus of the ‘Birthers’ ideology promotes ‘White Supremacy.’ ”
Alex alleges that in that same year, she and another employee spotted a “hangman’s noose” on the floor, but it was removed by a white male employee and not reported to the company’s human resources department.
In May 2009, Alex alleges, she complained to human resources about racially offensive postings in the workplace, naming two specific white employees and other white employees.
The postings consisted of racist depictions of prominent persons of color as well as depictions of firearms and shooting magazines.
Two employees would hold up shooting magazines as Alex walked past them, she alleges.
Alex took pictures of the postings, but the alleged perpetrators complained that she was taking pictures of the workplace and General Electric, through its human resources department, responded by telling Alex to stop taking pictures.
“Plaintiff alleges that defendant GE through its Human Resources Department condoned such racially offensive behavior and never fully investigated her allegations,” the suit reads.
Alex again complained to human resources in October 2009, naming two specific employees, saying that she feared for her personal safety and demanding that the two employees be fired.
The two employees were suspended in November 2009 for a week, but Alex alleges that the suspensions were not in response to her allegations.
By February 2010, Alex was transferred from the “Bucket Assembly Area” to the “Rotor Mag Test Area.” Alex then lost authority and overtime. The sexual and racial harassment also continued, according to the suit.
In January 2011, Alex alleges that a black co-worker found a racist word scrawled on his locker.
The same month, Alex alleges that she saw a “brown monkey hanging by its blue cape” on a locker of one the defendants. The same day, Alex alleges that three of the defendants, including the one who had the monkey hanging from his locker, were overheard referring to blacks by the same racist word scrawled on the black co-worker’s locker.
Two of those three were former Super Steel employees, including the one who allegedly had the monkey on his locker, according to the suit.
In July 2011, Alex met with human resources and alleged that supervisors allowed unlimited overtime to unqualified white employees but denied her overtime. The supervisors then allowed the white employees to essentially perform no work while on overtime.
The next month, Alex alleges, a driver believed to be one of her antagonists tried to cut her off on her way to work. That antagonist was the third employee hired from Super Steel, the suit alleges. Alex said she reported the incident to the state police.
Alex was fired the next month.