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ThyssenKrupp Official Apologizes for Racially-Charged Workplace

Reese, an African American, filed suit against the company following a November 3 finding from the Illinois human rights departnment

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Following an evaluation of about 20 worldwide cities, German technology and materials group ThyssenKrupp selected Chicago as it's North American regional headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday.

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week with giddy enthusiasm that the German company ThyssenKrupp would move it's North American Headquarters to Chicago and bring 100 jobs.

What a boon!

Then a story emerged that the company's Westchester office was allegedly rife with racism, according to one-time employee Montrelle Reese. Reese, an African American, filed suit against the company following a November 3 finding from the Illinois human rights departnment. That finding opened the door for discrimination suit.  Now Reese is seeking $250,000 in damages.

Reese said the N-word was regularly used at the company's Westchester office, and that the company even performed a blackface routine at a company retreat.

Tuesday, at the behest of Emanuel, and under pressure from Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, ThyssenKrupp's president and CEO, issued a statement acknowledging the hostile environment. From the Sun-Times

“We understand that these allegations have been the source of distress and hurt to members of the African-American community, citizens of Chicago, our employees and others,” Hussey said Tuesday. “For that, we offer our sincerest apologies and recognize our responsibility in this matter.”

Hussey said the company has again reviewed the harassment allegations involving Reese that prompted the Illinois Department of Human Rights to find “substantial evidence of discrimination” against the company that Emanuel proudly welcomed to Chicago last week.

“We have had to realize that mistakes were made,” the written statement from Hussey said. “For example, the use of epithets to describe a tool to service elevators or disparaging remarks about [black] neighborhoods.

“We realize that we need to take further measures to prevent the repetition of this type of behavior….We will dedicate whatever time and resources are necessary to further education our workforce on the lawful and appropriate treatment of all employees, including the engagement of experts to assist in this education.”

Jackson, who met with Hussey before the statement was released, said the apology is a start, but doesn't go far enough.

The Rainbow Push leader said the company needs to make a better effort to hire more minorities for its business. Reese was one of three African American employees in Westchester. Jackson said more needs to be done.

Reese said he'd "never felt more alone" in his life, not simply because of the use of the N-word or the blackface routines, but because racism was baked into the German company's fabric, he said.

It's not the first time ThyssenKrupp Elevators has been in hot water. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: 

In October 2005, an elevator manufacturing company agreed to pay $75,000 to an 18-year-old African American welder and $100,000 to 12 other Black employees in an EEOC suit alleging racial harassment of the teen and a pattern of discrimination against African American employees at the Middleton, Tennessee facility. Harassment of the teen included calling him a “Black [S.O.B.],” telling racially offensive jokes, hiding his safety gloves, placing stink bombs under his workstation, and telling him that the vending machines do not take “crack money.” EEOC v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Manufacturing, Inc., Civil Action No. 03-1160-T (W.D. Tenn. Oct. 2005).

In fact, the company's history is fraught with human rights issues.

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