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Judge denies class-action status for women suing Ford over harassment at Chicago plant

The plaintiffs sought a class-action lawsuit for all women who had worked at Ford’s two Chicago plants since 2012, but a judge said their allegations weren’t similar enough.

Christie Van, who is party to a lawsuit against Ford for racial and sexual harassment at two Chicago plants, testified before the Chicago City Council Finance Committee in February 2017 during a hearing on sexual harassment. | Michelle Kanaar/For the Sun-Times

A federal judge has denied class-action status for a group of women who have sued Ford Motor Company, alleging rampant sexual misconduct at the auto giant’s two Chicago plants.

Judge Robert Dow’s ruling on Thursday marks a loss for the 30-plus women who worked at the plants and filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois in 2014, claiming their male coworkers and supervisors subjected them to sexual harassment, discrimination and threats of retaliation if they reported the inappropriate behavior.

In a 70-page decision, Dow shot down their bid for class-action status, writing that the women could instead sue as individuals because they weren’t “exposed to the same conduct.”

“To the contrary, the evidence indicates that named Plaintiffs and putative class members were exposed to a wide range of purported misconduct — from exposure to sexual graffiti, to quid pro quo sexual propositions, to rape,” Dow wrote.

Last year, three of the women testified in City Council chambers about the vulgarities they faced while working at the two plants.

The women, who said they were greeted with chants of “fresh meat” on their first day, accused their male coworkers of masturbating on the assembly line, sharing photos of their penises, groping and propositioning women and retaliating against those who complained.

“They flexed their power, threatened my career and suggested if I wanted to continue to provide for my family, I had to engage in sexual acts or favors,” Miyoshi Morris told aldermen of her 18 years at Ford.

Their lawsuit is not the first to allege sexual misconduct at Ford’s Chicago plants. In 1999, a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual harassment was settled and a court-ordered monitor was appointed.

A Ford spokesperson said in an email that the company “does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination” and that it will “take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”

“While we are pleased with the judge’s decision, we will continue to reinforce the importance of respectful, harassment-free environments at all of our facilities, including our Chicago plants,” the statement said.

The Ford spokesperson said the company has a “comprehensive approach” in place to prevent and address sexual harassment and discrimination.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys did not immediately return messages seeking comment.