Friday, March 31, 2006

EEOC v. Honda: Nothing seems right in cars

Honda claims to support diversity. Why, there are even three Black women in the front row of the photo on this page:
Honda is committed to maintaining a diverse workforce. We strive to attract, employ and retain a talented, diverse pool of associates from communities throughout the United States. Honda recognizes the value of outreach activities to ensure that we can accomplish our goal of developing a workforce that represents today's multicultural society.

Nice. Now if were only true.

According to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch:

A former Honda manager in charge of diversity and ethics says the company violated her civil rights when she was fired nearly two years ago, according to a lawsuit.

. . .

Ways, who is black, was the senior manager responsible for diversity and ethics at Honda corporate offices in Marysville until April 2004. That’s when Honda fired Ways "after she protested racial discrimination in employment," according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Courty by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Ways’ behalf.

. . .

Ways was responsible for "auditing personnel actions and processes; and increasing diversity and integrity in reporting of diversity matters to federal agencies," according to the commission. While at Honda, she opposed conduct she deemed discriminatory on "numerous" occasions, the commission said.

In one example cited by the commission, Ways intervened on behalf of a qualified black engineering applicant who was not hired. Ways also alleged that Honda management showed a pattern of denying her workforce data and information that she needed to do her job.

. . .

Honda and other Japanese automakers have faced more allegations of racism in hiring practices than domestic companies, said James Rubenstein, a Miami University professor who has written books on the industry.

"The Big Three (are) associated with Detroit, which is a heavy African-American city," he said. "The Japanese carmakers, when they first came to America, they didn’t locate in Detroit. They didn’t locate in big cities. They located in rural communities that are predominantly white."

Rubenstein comes with some serious cred. From his U of Miami page, we see he teaches:
  • Global Forces, Local Diversity
  • Geography of the Auto Industry
  • Geography of Urban Diversity
and his bio states:
I am an auto industry analyst. I study current trends and issues in the auto industry. As a geographer, I am especially interested in where factories open and close - and why. I am author of two books on the auto industry Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry and The Changing U.S. Auto Industry: A Geographical Analysis. I am currently working on a book with Thomas Klier Who Really Made Your Car? which looks at the growing importance of parts suppliers. I am a consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, working with the Regional Analysis Group in the Research Department.

So what does this all mean? Did Honda screw up? The EEOC doesn't file suits, especially under the Bush administration, unless they think something is really going on. The last time I wrote about the EEOC it was in re: Tyson Foods in Arkansas and Whites Only bathrooms. (Note: It is doubtful that Tyson corporate knew about this, yet local management didn't stop it.)

And that was just plain ol' American racism. Honda's situation seems different, as it is a Japanese owned corporation, with different ethnic issues likely unclear to westerners. Yet it still seems troubling. Especially since the person fired was the Manager of Diversity. Maybe she did her job too well. I don't know.