Update August 8th: NASCAR files rebuttal to suit, see updated post HERE.
The International Herald Tribune reported on June 12th, 2008 that NASCAR Chairman Brian France denies that Mauricia Grant (pictured at left) ever complained to her supervisors about racial and sexual discrimination, claims she says led to her eventual firing.
Grant, who is black and who worked as a technical inspector for NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series, filed a $225 million lawsuit against NASCAR, accusing the series and several management officials of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliatory termination. Brian France claims this is the first he's heard of her gripes.
"The disappointing thing is she makes a lot of claims, none of them reported", France said. "The fact that it went on as she stated, for many months, but never bothered to tell anyone at management what was going on — which is what our policy says — is very disappointing. We would have liked, if those type things were in fact going on, we would have loved to have done an investigation and a review of such an allegation".
France said NASCAR will review Grant's claims, which included 23 specific incidents of alleged sexual harassment and 34 specific incidents of alleged racial and gender discrimination she says began when she was hired in January 2005 through her October 2007 firing. But NASCAR still will not disclose why Grant was fired late in the 2007 season. And some action already has taken place - the Associated Press reports that two of the NASCAR officials named in the lawsuit have been placed on administrative leave for violating company policy. The officials, who were not immediately identified, were sent home from Kentucky Speedway on Friday evening (June 13th). However, on June 14th, ABC News reported that the two individuals are Tim Knox and Bud Moore. According to the lawsuit documents, these two are identified as having exposed themselves to Mauricia Grant during a NASCAR social function on April 2nd, 2007.
In her suit, she claims she was referred to as "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba," by co-workers, was often told she worked on "colored people time," and was frightened by one official who routinely made references to the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, Grant claims she was subjected to sexual advances from male co-workers, two of whom allegedly exposed themselves to her, and graphic and lewd jokes.
The black-operated Black Voices blog discusses the specifics of the suit in greater detail:
The lawsuit states Grant was subjected to "virulently racist harassment, a racially hostile work environment and insidious and pervasive race discrimination reflective of a former, uglier era in our nation's history."
The lawsuit also states Grant was subjected to "lewd and obscene sexual harassment, a sexually hostile work environment and rampant gender discrimination." It goes on to state that all manner of NASCAR officials, including supervisors, "perpetuated, condoned and actively participated in perverted and disgusting sexual conduct designed to demean and diminish (Grant) and the handful of other women employed by NASCAR as officials."
Grant, who was the only black female official and began with NASCAR in January 2005, said in the suit she was fired for her "poor work performance" but said she had received positive performance evaluations and had received no warnings aside from one about her use of "street" language.
She contends in the suit that NASCAR officials would send her obscene e-mails or text messages, such as this from official David Duke last November: "I love all Yall mofos, i am that nigga, HAHAHA, Holla, PIMPALICIOUS." Or, she contends, Duke would say in her presence, "What up, my nigga?"
When she complained to NASCAR officials, Grant told USA TODAY on Tuesday, "I was basically told to deal with it because the men that I was working with, a lot of them were military men and I needed to learn how to act like they act if I wanted to be successful.
Click HERE to view the full 40-page complaint in PDF format. She has retained a high-powered New York discrimination lawyer, Benedict P. Morelli of Morelli Ratner PC. You can read about Sports Illustrated's interview with Morelli HERE.
However, Mike Wilford, a former NASCAR official who's named in the suit and has since left NASCAR, told reporters he was present for many of the incidents Grant lists in her suit, said she was a willing participant in much of the behavior and had "twisted" the versions to her benefit. "Graphic and lewd jokes? She participated in them. She laughed, she would never say it was inappropriate", Wilford said. "She asked to be called the only two names she was ever called. She called herself Mo Money all the time".
An article by Lee Spencer on Fox Sports paints a portrait of Mauricia Grant as someone who was educated, ambitious, interested in auto racing, and eager to please. She gave no sign that she expected the male-dominated NASCAR environment to change its ways to suit her.
And it doesn't seem like blacks are particularly chimping out over this issue. According to an article in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, North Carolina A&T students intend to remain involved with auto racing, and even Mauricia Grant herself supposedly recommends that blacks seek greater involvement with NASCAR.
In his Sports Illustrated column, Lars Anderson states that he's never heard any racist language uttered in his presence during his time hanging around the pits, although he concedes that the crews knew he was a reporter and may have taken care to watch their mouths. He believes NASCAR will move to settle the suit quickly for the sake of public relations.
Commentary: And sadly, I think Lars Anderson may prove to be right. There is far too much of a tradition to "settle" these lawsuits for the sake of public appearances, regardless of the merits of the case.
Mauricia Grant's case looks weak. So far, there's no documentation of her officially filing any complaints within the company's chain of command. So it appears that in one fell swoop, she's transitioned from being a satisfied employee to a litigant. This should work against her. The proposed figure of $225 million can and should also be used against her to portray her as greedy. Why would she need so much money? Why does she deserve so much money? Heck, it makes me wish I was discriminated against.
On the other hand, the fact that NASCAR has already placed two of the officials named in the suit on administrative leave implies some culpability on their part. It was a mistake for NASCAR to take this step.
My prediction - NASCAR will unfortunately settle, just like Denny's and Cracker Barrel did. Probably a $5 million settlement for her, another $5 million for her favorite black charity, a black scholarship program, plus attorney's fees, plus a series of feelgood affirmative action measures to symbolize NASCAR's surrender to judicial terrorism and civil rights extortion. That's the way it usually works. Heck, maybe they'll name a race after Martin Luther King. I can just see it now - the MLK 500. Starts at a KFC restaurant, ends at a liquor store.
And Whitey takes it in the shorts again.