Thursday, June 12, 2008

NASCAR Workers Like to Make Crude Jokes

So it's finally come out: NASCAR workers like to make crude jokes about sex and race. Who knew? Who knew that a business whose drivers and fans, being predominately White and male (and probably not the most sophisticated) would have employees were...well, White, male, and not particularly sophisticated. And who would have thought they wouldn't go around making crude sexual and racial jokes?

Well, apparently someone got fed up with it and filed a sexual harassment and racial discrimination lawsuit. In it, plaintiff, Mauricia Grant, a $30,000/season NASCAR Official (Technical Inspector), responsible for checking race cars before, during and after each race to ensure safety and full compliance with NASCAR rules, has filed a sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaint to the tune of a cool $225 million. According to the complaint, Ms. Grant was NASCAR's first African American official.

Among the many instances in which she was the butt of a discriminatory joke:

49. Throughout her employment from approximately January 2005 until her unlawful termination on or about October 27, 2007, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT was dubbed with a series of racist and racially degrading nicknames, including: “Mohammed;” “Nappy Headed Mo;” “Queen Sheba;” “Al Qaeda;” “Black Sisters Revenge;” “Mo from the Block;” “Molicious;” and “Simpleton.”

50. Throughout her employment from approximately January 2005 until her Wrongful termination on or about October 27, 2007, approximately weekly during the NASCAR Busch Series season, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT’s White co-workers made ignorant racist comments regarding her pigment and hair, such as: “You can’t possibly sunburn so you should work out in the sun!”; “How do you fix that hair?”; and “How come the palms of your hands are white?” Plaintiff was shocked.

60. During approximately the week of April 8, 2006 while working the Texas
Motor Speedway, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT overheard Official Carl Simmons mention to Official Dennis Dillard his seeing a car hood ornament resembling Fred Flinstone. When Carl Simmons responded that he could not remember the hood, Official Dennis Dillard replied: “Which hood, your Klan hood?” The group of White Officials laughed except Carl Simmons, who turned red and looked suspiciously guilty.

64. On or about the week of May 5, 2006, while working the race at the Richmond International Speedway in Richmond, Virginia, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT drove with Director Scott French to a store to purchase some work pants for Official Todd Shultz. During this trip, Mr. French “confided” that his step-mother was Black and that he “grew up in the hood” and loved hip-hop, and then said: “Let me mentor you. It’s tough being in the garage with all these guys.” Plaintiff felt relieved to know that someone in a position of authority not only was not a racist, but could actually relate to Black people. In turn, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT disclosed that she was raised with three siblings by a single mom in the projects of the Bronx. Much to her disgust, Plaintiff later discovered that Mr. French had lied: he did not have any Black relatives nor did he ever live in an urban, inter-racial neighborhood.

81. On or about the week of July 7, 2007 while they were working at the Daytona
International Speedway, White Official Bud Moore asked Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT how it felt to be Black. When Plaintiff responded that being Black is “a privilege,” Bud Moore looked aghast and asked her: “How could you possibly feel that being Black is a privilege?” When Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT was non-responsive, Moore feigned exaggerated confusion, wondering aloud in Plaintiff’s presence: “How can she be proud of being Black?”

86. On or about November 21, 2007, Plaintiff MAURICIA GRANT received a text
message from White Official David Duke which read:
I love all Yall mofos
i am that nigga
Plaintiff was offended.

First, before I get into my thoughts of the complaint, I think it's incredibly ironic that
one of the alleged offenders is fellow technician by the name of David Duke.

Second, I love the way jokes are explained in complaints. No set up or anything, just straight sanitation. And told and told as curtly as possible.

Those are a few of the many allegations in the complaint. I'm not entirely sure how sexual harassment and racial discrimination suits work, but the complaint seems almost entirely based on circumstantial evidence. It seems the plaintiff just seems to be the butt of a lot of jokes- racial and sexual ones, albeit. There doesn't seem to be a systematic method of organizational discrimination - like her not being promoted, etc. No paper trail. Which doesn't necessarily make the situation right, per se, but I'm not sure if it meets the right legal standard. Again, I'm not sure what standard is necessary, but I would hope it relies a lot more on allegations.

Although Ms. Grant does a fairly good job of documenting her verbal discrimination, they're just jokes....which they might have a hard time proving in court. Unless there is video or something to that effect, it's all circumstantial evidence, so it'll come down to a "he said-she said." I wonder how likable a plaintiff she is to a New York jury (compliant was filed in the Southern District of New York)?

I suppose the best comparison might be to that of the sexual harassment complaint against Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks. Of course, one difference between this case and the Isiah case is that here, the suit is for $225 million, and the Isiah case was for $10 million (Isiah lost). It kinda makes me suspect the sexual and racial harassment, though probably did happen in some form, is probably a weak legal case, and Ms. Grant's attorneys are using the enormity of the damages amount to garner press, which it did, so that it'll force a settlement for a (likely) significantly reduced amount. But, even a 90% discount, so - $22.5 million, is tremendously high. In short, the damages asked of $225 million is leverage. [Although I can imagine the frat boy mentality at Madison Square Garden to be similar to NASCAR, I'm not entirely sure what the facts were in the Isiah case, so I can't really make factual comparisons. Though I'm sure someone in the media will.]

In the end, though I do agree that racial discrimination and sexual harassment have no place anywhere, I'm not sure if this particular case is that strong. If it actually goes to court, which I doubt, the facts discovered will likely show the weakness of her allegations. Remember, anyone can make a complaint. It takes a lot more to prove it in trial. Ms. Grant is likely just extorting NASCAR - indeed the compliant states NASCAR does over $2 billion in merchandising revenues annually. We'll see where it goes.

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