Sunday, August 10, 2008

NASCAR suit a messy tangle of cultural and legal issues

There has been a run of stories in the past few days about the $225 million lawsuit filed against NASCAR by former Nationwide Series official Mauricia Grant, capped off by Sunday morning’s issue of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” series on the topic.

Late last week, NASCAR used the media to unleash a campaign to discredit Grant by dredging up some legal issues she faced in years before she was employed by NASCAR. It was a shameful tactic, suggesting that since NASCAR couldn’t go at Grant on the substance of what she claims happened to her while working there the company needed a diversionary tactic.

Let’s deal with that first and move on. Even if we assume that Grant did everything NASCAR says she did to the worst possible degree, that does not change by one molecule the level to which she is protected, by law, against discrimination and harassment on the job. It is not more acceptable to discriminate against or to harass a “bad” person than it is a “good” one, no matter who is drawing the lines between who’s bad and who’s good.

On Friday, then, NASCAR filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York a 29-page document outlining its defense in Grant’s suit. In rough outline, NASCAR says that Grant was habitually tardy for car pools leaving to take her and fellow officials to work at the track.

It says she was fired because of her on-the-job actions and performance and not because she complained about the way she was being treated by the fellow officials she named in her suit. In fact, NASCAR continues to contend that Grant never complained about that treatment to her superiors, as is required by NASCAR’s internal policies.

Then on Sunday morning’s 30-minute “Outside the Lines,” ESPN interviewed Grant along with three men – two of them black and the third from Mexico – as well as two former female employees. They all spoke about the culture that exists inside the garage and about the way women and people of color have to act to survive in that culture.

“I think minorities have adapted to NASCAR,” said Chris Justice, one of the black men interviewed on the ESPN show. “I don’t think NASCAR has adapted to minorities.”

OK, so after all of that where do we stand?

Grant’s lawsuit is a legal issue. The crux of that suit is whether, as her employer, NASCAR treated her fairly within the boundaries of the law and its own policies.

Does NASCAR have a clear policy regarding discrimination and harassment? NASCAR says it does, and I have personally seen documentation that shows that Grant was among the NASCAR officials who attended two training sessions, in January 2006 and January 2007, regarding those matters.

The existence of the policy alone, however, is not enough. It must be enforced and enforced fairly.

Grant says that it took her so long to finally complain about the treatment she was getting because she was afraid that the act of complaining would make her a target for retribution, a fear she contends was eventually realized.

On “Outside the Lines” Sunday morning, others echoed those same fears. The policy is no good if the culture makes it taboo to use it.

So the legal issues are entwined with the cultural ones. It’s hard to separate cleanly the “ways” of the NASCAR garage from the legal ramifications of this issue, and in some ways those two things can never be totally separated. That’s why diversity is so important.

Justice, one of the black men interviewed Sunday by ESPN, said he was working one day when he heard a fellow employee, who was white, refer to the way something was accomplished by using the term “nigger-rigging.” That phrase means to temporarily or haphazardly rig something only to the point where it works, with the inference being that it’s not worth the time or effort (or that the time isn’t available) to do it “right.”

Justice said that when he looked at the person who uttered the phrase, the white employee realized he’d used an offensive term and apologized.

If you have different people from different backgrounds working together side-by-side, eventually the kind of ignorance and prejudice that led to the very existence of that term will break down. But progress on that front can be glacial, and as an employer it is part of your job to make sure that, first, your workplace is diverse enough for the process to begin and, second, that the process takes place in a professional atmosphere.

Look, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. I’ve worked in some absolutely toxic environments in my life.

When I was still in high school I spent my summer days defending myself because the “boss” was a friend of the family who’d helped me get the summer job. I was “the boss’s boy” and “college boy” because I planned to get an education.

Because I didn’t yet have a couple of dozen stories of wild sexual escapades to share with my co-workers (who had hundreds of them, true or not), I was called just about every synonym for “gay” that you can think of.

Over the years I’ve been in some conversations that were held in what I felt to be all in good fun that involved jokes and sarcasm about racial and sexual stereotypes. So have a lot of you. So have a lot of people who work in racing.

The existence of that reality, in life as well as in NASCAR, means that whenever this moves from the personal level to a legal level it’s a messy thing.

Part of NASCAR’s defense in the Grant suit is that it was Grant, herself, who came up with the phrase “colored people’s time” to explain away why she was sometimes late for a car pool ride. Instead of laughing at that and perpetuating it, though, what her NASCAR supervisor(s) should have done right then is cut that off and say he or she didn’t want to hear it again, from Grant or anybody else.

Grant’s suit against NASCAR details several instances where fellow employees showed or threatened to show Grant private parts of their anatomy. Some of this allegedly happened away from the track at hotels where NASCAR officials were staying together and sharing meals or other refreshments in each others’ company.

You might argue this was not during “on-the-clock” time, but still. If a situation develops where anybody deems it appropriate to unzip his pants to make his point, somebody needs to step up and question the propriety of the proceedings.

I can say with a great degree of certainty that some NASCAR employees have been treated, are being treated and have treated each other improperly as human beings. But the courts don’t have clear jurisdiction on that. The courts do, however, have a say in how companies treat their employees.

There are laws, there are rules and there are policies that the courts help define and administer.

Mauricia Grant’s lawsuit is about that, and ultimately that’s what will be ruled upon. As for the rest of it, no verdict or no settlement is going to change the fact that people sometimes just don’t treat each other well.

We’ll never fix that, entirely, but surely that doesn’t mean we ought to stop trying.

37 comments:

Objective View said...

Enumerating all the legal issues Grant has faced is NOT a shameful tactic, it is a legitimate one. Ultimately, this case is a "he said, she said" matter. The character of the plaintiff is therefore highly relevent as it pertains to her credibility in the eyes of a jury.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:

<< It is more acceptable to discriminate against or to harass a “bad” person than it is a “good” one, no matter who is drawing the lines between who’s bad and who’s good. >>

It IS more acceptable??

Anonymous said...

The reason to expose her past is to show her character...the kind of person that would perhaps sue for $$, not for principles. Also, the black culture indeed uses the N-word, speaks of colored peoples, etc. They make fun of 'white folks' which is an age old derogatory phrase that was the black mans slur to retort to the N-word (although whites aren't as offended). I have seen whites made fun of for their lack of 'soul' and their dance moves, their sunburns and their hair. Every white laughed it off shook off the embarrasment. But black culture throws around the n word but in turn is offended if what they say is repeated by whites. The rules are blurred. Ms. Grant was indeed a poor employee and is playing the race/sex card which I find repulsive. For there to truly be equalness for the races and sexes, wolf must not be cried.

Anonymous said...

I know some crew members and they say by far she was totally unqualified for her job, was difficult to get along with, very unprofessional, and did not have a clue as to how to perform her job.

Monkeesfan said...

Grant's lawsuit and overall behavior is a rampage by someone fabricating harassment (her descriptions are too lurid to be plausible) for her own gain. That's why this "smear" campaign by NASCAR is needed - to get the truth of the situation out. So yes, Grant's past behabvior DOES change the issue, because her story wasn't believable and her past shows why. When they start talking about "the culture," it's a euphemism for the plaintiffs not wanting to take responsibility for themselves and shifting the blame to "the culture." It's PC running amok again.

Richard in N.C. said...

At this point Miss Grant's claims are just that - her claims, which remain to be supported or refuted in court.

The "campaign to discredit Grant" to which you refer, from what I have read, is taken from the response NASCAR filed in court. I have seen nothing reported by the AP or others on how the AP came into possession of the information from NASCAR's response - in particular nothing reported that said NASCAR "leaked" the information to the AP. From what I have read, the information on Miss Grant's prior actions appears to have come from public court records available to any citizen or news organization.

Hopefully the truth will be allowed to come out in court and BOTH Miss Grant and NASCAR will get justice.

Billy said...

Common sense will lose out here...If she did not perform as required by nascar, she should have been fired, but wait, they could be sued for firing an un-qualified employee, because they did not provide the training she required. She should have filed charges of descrimination at the FIRST incident, but no...then Nascar would have made it "rough" on her. Bottom line is this, if Nascar hasnt covered every base by having EVERY training session, EVERY seminar, EVERY effort they have made to prevent this, signed by her, acknowledging she received this training and was aware of the policies put forth, and EXACTLY what her rights were....she walks away with a few million and nascar says "we have put this incident behind us and have moved forward to ensure this doesnt happen again".
Some companies deserve lawsuits and some dont, whether nascar does or not has yet to be seen. But employees need to step up to and give to the jobs the same they expect from them. It aint a perfect world, but a little common sense goes along way.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I(a white yankee male) Hope she absolutely nails NASCAR to the proverbial wall and it costs them so much "hush money", that it will kill that stupid southern hillbilly mentality that is so prevalent in and around that entire stock car racing culture even today.

Anonymous said...

I'm always skeptical on principle of those who claim "harassment" only long after the event in question.

If a male coworker had exposed himself to me and/or made inappropriate advances during working hours I would have exercised a woman's age-old privilege of slapping the face of a guy who go fresh. Then I would have gone to the boss INSTANTLY. Becaues that's what an honorable person does -- deal with such issues now, rather than collect them for later use in a lawsuit.

If a person doesn't report "harassment" issues through the correct channels their motives are necessarily suspect.

And I don't buy into the idea that Ms. Grant was afraid that she'd be retaliated against. There are too many of you media people she could have talked to in that case.

Seems to me that its pretty insulting of you to say that the female reporter, who broke the DUI and restraining order story the day before Nascar's stuff appears, was just a tool Nascar is using to smear Ms. Grant.

When you're dealing with something like this where unsubstantiated claims can yield vast amounts of money character matters. Investigation into the claiment's character is important -- not because its right to harass a person of bad character but because questionable character raises legitimate questions about the believability of those ever-so-profitable claims.

Mike Hutton said...

Momma told me that if I couldn't say anything nice don't say anything at all.

Both Ms. Grant and NASCAR have some questions to answer, which is why we have due process of law in this country. Each is probably partially correct in their assertions, and each probably could have done some things differently. We'll just have to wait and see how this plays out. I think we can all agree that it isn't going to go away anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

interesting approach by nascar officials -- why it would make you think they have lily white pasts themselves. drugs, DUI's, theft and even a rumored murder await the investigator who is working for Grant's attorneys. Why it makes one wonder if none of them (nascar louts) ever heard the old saw, 'those who live in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones'. Pandora's box is now open --- and I'll bet that from the very top down nascar will of wished they just wrote the check and shut up.

Fed up said...

Personally, I'm done reading anything David Poole writes. Give a fat, pompous, self-inflated liberal a platform and he'll spew swill from it just because he can. As for Marcia Grant... she was no more than a token in the first place. Of course her character (or lack thereof) is relevent.

Anonymous said...

TFN.

Kenorv said...

So let me get this straight? Ms. Grant was so afraid to follow the proper procedure for reporting these things and then her next step is a huge lawsuit? Even if what she claims is true I think there was a lot more that she could have done to get everything resolved before she decided to make this a legal matter. I mean isn't this the type of thing the NAACP was made for? To support someone like Ms. Grant when she has to confront a big entity like NASCAR on discrimination? If the higher ups in NASCAR really didn't know about this at the time like they said, and didn't know that there was a problem with their policy then that's when the NAACP is supposed to come in and help and if that doesn't do any good then you can take it to court. It's just hard for me to side with Ms. Grant on this when she didn't exercise all of her other options before filing this lawsuit. And even if she had done that with no success, did she really face $250M worth of discrimination? Like David said in his blog, we've all been through crap at work but not all of us decide to make a lawsuit out of it. I wonder how much I could have gotten if I sued every time someone called me a derogatory name.

That said NASCAR failed too with their smearing of Grant. It's obvious that there are flaws with their procedure for reporting incidents like what Ms. Grant claims happened to her. NASCAR should have just said that while they think the lawsuit is bogus since Ms. Grant didn't at least attempt to follow proper procedure, that they would be glad to listen to her and every other minority on the payroll to determine what changes need to be made so this mess doesn't happen again. But when you do nothing but take the smear tactic route you lose most, it not all credibility you have in a case like this.

Anonymous said...

If she WAS unqualified then she should have been written up and then fired, that way there is a dated paper trail with her signature that can be shown in court.

NASCAR does have a problem with completely cracking down on things, race/gender wise and really needs to have a new one torn into them overall if only to bring them inline with the "major sport" they claim to be.

THAT SAID.. as to the term "N-rigging" in my experience it is a term that everyone in the my integrated shop experience back/white whatever.. uses, not in a derogatory way but as something that is done or the ingenuity of it if there is nothing else that can be done to get it to work, either in time or because the part is not available

Anonymous said...

The sad part of this story is that we will never know the whole truth. There is no way NA$CAR will ever let this go to court. It has far too much to lose if the verdict went against them. There will be a settlement and all the legal and moral issues will become moot.

Anonymous said...

If her past is such a huge issue now, why wasn't it when she was hired? Did they do a background check then and still hire her?

Makes NACSAR look DUMB!

Anonymous said...

Half the Nascar officials have DUI's. They ran into huge issues with the race in Canada, because dozens of officials had DUI's and hadn't bothered to clear it with the Canadian government. As a result they got stopped at the border.
Furthermore.. Going to HR in Nascar is signing your own death-warrant. There's been instances of "confidential" conference calls between HR and employees about issues where the (female) employee would complain about harrassment from their (male) boss and where HR 'forgot' to mention that the boss was conferenced in over the phone. Can you imagine how the employee felt after that? These kinds of stories did the rounds fast and everyone knew 'the black widow' (HR director) could not be trusted.
I know Mo Grant and she was a good employee, certainly not worse than most of those people in the garage. At least she can read and write for Chrissakes, unlike others.

Monkeesfan said...

Anonymous #17, likely because NASCAR is suffering from to much PC to have not hired Mo Grant.

Gregory Zornes said...

That's a great viewpoint David. I think you're right on.

GZ

Anonymous said...

Put on any popular hip-hop CD out today and you will hear the words "n***er", "ho", "b*tch", and m***f***er" more times listening to the CD than you probably will in a NASCAR garage in a year.

Still waiting for the $225 million suit against any of the record companies for their "culture" of racism.

Anonymous said...

Nothing filed until AFTER she was fired. Hmmm...

Does she have a case? Maybe. That will be decided during the trial. But $225 Million worth of injury? Pahleese.

Let's recap. No complaint while employed, but $225 Million after.

Anonymous said...

The scariest aspect of the entire Grant v. NASCAR matter is the terrible outcry of racist and antagonistic comments by fans of the sport.
It appears if Ms. Grant was to interact, in any way, with some of those who responded to this marvelously insightful article, she may well fear for her life.
Perhaps what has been said about NASCAR for so long is really true.

It is a sport of and for ignorant white trash, racist hicks, most of whom do not have all their teeth and fornicate with their relatives.

Keep your sport. No white person or minority with any class or conscience would want anything to do with the likes of you.

Grant should get all the money she can and shut down the whole grimy enterprise....Brian France first.

Now...how does it feel to have negative things said about YOU?

Anonymous said...

Typical smear campaign - if you have no defense for the CHARGES, trash the victim.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR is getting beat at their own PR game. This never should have gotten this far. A minor settlement with confidentiality agrement would have made this go away and never come to light. Welcome to the modern era NASCAR. You are bungling this one worse than George Bush in the Iraqi desert. NASCAR is a major cooperation and needs to act like one.

Anonymous said...

Mo Grant was indeed a suspect employee. She was indeed hired for the wrong reasons.

Have any of you actually worked in a NASCAR garage/pit/shop? I have. For years. The comment about people having to adapt to NASCAR as opposed to NASCAR adapting to the modern world is DEAD on. NASCAR's diversity efforts came about to placate sponsors. That's it and that's all.

I have heard drivers, crew chiefs, NASCAR officials and members of NASCAR's first family use terms like "nig-rig" and others way more offensive.

Grants attorneys just need to use the same tactics with NASCAR's rulers...starting with NASCAR's own Ewing family, the Frances. Drugs, affairs, questionable accounting, numerous DUI's, "illegal use of hands",...it's all there. NASCAR is rotten from the top down.

You do things for the wrong reasons long enough and you get bit in the ass. And that's what is happening to the people running NASCAR right now. They

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #22, Grant fabricated the whole thing - what don't you want to understand here? It's Tawana Brawley all over again.

Anonymous said...

monkeesfan,

Your hatred clouds your judgement.

marc said...

monkeesfan - "anonymous #22, Grant fabricated the whole thing - what don't you want to understand here? It's Tawana Brawley all over again.

Really? Then perhaps you can explain why NASCAR fired two employees for exposing themselves to Grant?

And... oh yeah, provide a linked source that shows you may, and I stress the word MAY indicate you're close to factual.

(as opposed to being a blithering "idjit.")

Anonymous said...

"anonymous #22, Grant fabricated the whole thing - what don't you want to understand here? It's Tawana Brawley all over again."

EVEN if this idiot's assumption is true there is no denying what I mentioned in my previous post.

Racist humor and language are an EVERYDAY feature of life in the NASCAR garage/pit/shop/offices from the top down and this FACT has created an environment where someone like Grant can make these claims(which ring true to form) and be taking seriously.

The chickens are coming home to roost and NASCAR's diversity effort is nothing but lip service and is being exposed as the PC money grab insiders have always known it to be.

You do things for the wrong reasons long enough and you get bit in the ass.

marc said...

anon - "The chickens are coming home to roost and NASCAR's diversity effort is nothing but lip service and is being exposed as the PC money grab insiders have always known it to be."

More unsubstantiated non-sense.

Got anything to back up that statement other than hot air? Just who has made money as a result of the Diversity program and why?

Congrats, you've reached the level of monkeesfan in posting utter BS.

Anonymous said...

Re: anon12:04's comment: "Racist humor and language are an EVERYDAY feature of life in the NASCAR garage/pit/shop/offices from the top down and this FACT has created an environment where someone like Grant can make these claims(which ring true to form) and be taking seriously.":


I have lived in NC for two years and have had racist comments made to me by NASCAR fans who assume because I am lily-white I will agree with them. They get an eye-opener when I go full off on them, especially when I refer them to Dale Jr.'s comments during the 60 Minutes interview and trip through the 'Dega infield.

(And racist comments from people at large, not just NASCAR fans, of course. Whenever I mention a person giving me trouble in the "single woman" vein, I am inevitably asked "are they black?" I turn it around on them and ask why that would be their first question to me as I relate my story?)

I've had a stranger at the barstool next to me go off alleging Dale Earnhardt would be livid to know Max is running his company.

I've had another cluck when JPM won his race -- "A Mexican won, huh." -- Um, no, he's not a Mexican.

The most egregious thing that happened to me was in late May, when I -- despite wanting DESPERATELY to work in this field -- had to walk out of an interview when the team owner commenced to going off on Jesse Jackson, the Rainbow Coalition, Randy Moss and Brad Daugherty with a few N words thrown in for good measure in case I wasn't totally understanding him.

I was sick to my stomach and came home and crawled in bed, worrying that every stereotype that friends, family and strangers have about this sport was true. I know that's not the case, but episodes such as I have mentioned do not help at all.

PaulB said...

Monkeesfan, I don't know your background so I'm curious. How is it that you know for sure these allegations are false?

marc said...

PaulB - "Monkeesfan, I don't know your background so I'm curious. How is it that you know for sure these allegations are false?"

His background can be found here.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR, the business, is almost Stalinist in its behavior (circle the wagons behaviors, issuing edicts without justification, ignoring valid claims of inconsistency, etc.). Grant's attorneys will have a field day tearing up the organization. They may not lose $225M, but she'll walk away with 10% of that at the very least and have one helluva life thereafter because some idiots in NASCAR decided that she was 'one of the boys'.

If my wife worked for NASCAR, and she was subject to the racial/gender insults that we all know are pandemic in the workplace, there would have been blood and teeth on the floor of the garages. NASCAR needed to step up and deal with this harshly the first time it happened.

Now they'll pay. Not that they can't afford it 1000x over.

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