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Sexual Harassment Scourge Extends Beyond Hollywood to Ford and Interior Dept.


Hollywood and congressional power players make headlines for harassment, but the problem is also rooted at places like Ford. 

Judging from the powerful men whose names have dominated the news since the sexual harassment reckoning that began with the Harvey Weinstein's downfall, serial predatory behavior would appear to be a strictly Hollywood, Beltway, and Silicon Valley issue. But a New York Times investigative piece into a culture of harassment at Ford Motor Co. and the firing of four senior managers at the decidedly less well-known Department of the Interior are promising indicators that no workplace will be safe that allows an environment of harassment and abuse to fester.

Following a lawsuit in which Ford settled with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this August for $10 million over racial and sexual harassment at two Chicago plants, the Times exposed the danger that blue-collar women face daily at Ford. But this summer was not the first time Ford was sued for sexual harassment. A major lawsuit in the '90s brought attention to the culture of harassment, but women involved with that suit said that Ford didn't do enough to extirpate the problem and that the local union was often torn between representing the accusers and the accused, according to the Times.

Women who worked at the plants describe a situation in which men would shout "fresh meat" when a new female employee arrived on the floor. One woman, Suzette Wright, spoke of an underground at Ford where everything from toys, televisions, drugs, and guns were for sale at work while the men at the plant boasted of wild parties with strippers after work. Wright also spoke of harassment she endured, like being called the offensive name "peanut butter legs," which a male coworker finally broke down and explained to her when she prodded him.

'Well, peanut butter. Not only is it the color of your legs, but it's the kind of legs you like to spread," she said he told her. Wright also put up with "lewd comments, repeated come-ons, men grabbing their crotches and moaning every time she bent over," she told the Times.

Women who went to their union leaders with stories of harassment were often met with indifference, like Tonya Exum, who said that when she told her rep that she'd been groped, he replied, "It's not sexual harassment. He only did it one time." When she pressed the issue, asking how he would like it if it happened to his mother or sister, he just walked away, she said.

While some women spoke to the Times about incidents that occurred ages ago and Ford has worked to implement sexual harassment training, the company abides by a strict policy of proof of harassment that has left many women feeling sidelined by a "she said, he said" scenario.

More recently, one woman, Christie Van, said that one supervisor, Mike Riese, bragged about the size of his penis.

"He called himself White Chocolate. He said that he had a black man's dick," Van said. Meanwhile, another supervisor, Willie Fonseca, showed her a picture of his penis on his cell phone.

Sexual harassment complaints at Ford are down since 2015, according to the Times, but women who spoke to the paper said there are men still working at the plants who've been accused of harassment.

Meanwhile, unlike at the highest level of the government, where accused serial predator Donald Trump has yet to be investigated, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced last week that the department took swift action and fired four senior managers who were accused of sexual misconduct, according to ABC News.

"I've already removed four senior leaders that were guilty of inappropriate behavior and I will remove four hundred more if necessary. Intimidation, harassment, and discrimination is a cancer to any organization. However deep it goes, we will remove it from Interior," Zinke said in a videotaped statement.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist