Is Motorola Harboring Diversity or Disrespect?

The state's largest private employer pours money into African-American causes--but critics charge its bosses don't walk the talk

Maceo Gray says he received a phone call from Doris Gray one afternoon in March 1993, telling him her department had given her the Buddha and asking him to come help her get it out of her office. The department eventually decided to discontinue the award, but, Maceo Gray says, as far as he knows, no one in the department received diversity training or counseling as a result.

Gray complained verbally to Motorola vice president Ted Woods and other supervisors about the Buddha award, and, he says, was fired three weeks later.

To Maceo Gray's way of thinking, his termination proved his theory that Motorola was a racist company. Almost immediately, Gray organized a group called RIF Employees Association of Arizona. He kept in contact with the other RIF'ed Motorolans, and fielded complaints from some who still worked there.

And he also drove Doris Gray to work. On Friday, October 29, 1993, as they pulled up to the GSTG plant at Hayden and McDowell roads in Scottsdale, the Grays witnessed an arresting sight. A white female manager was entering the building. Gray recalls she was wearing a red dress, long underwear and boots. Her hair was tied up in a rag, her lips painted red and her face and hands black. She had padded her rear with pillows.

The Grays turned to each other and said, "'Oh, my God,'" Maceo Gray remembers. "We really didn't want to think that it was Aunt Jemima."

The woman, Karen Robertson, a supervisor in the preferred-parts stockroom at GSTG, walked past the African-American guards and the African-American secretary, into the building.

"By the time I got home, four ladies [had] called me," Maceo Gray says. Doris Gray complained to a supervisor that day, and Maceo Gray later wrote to corporate managers at Motorola's headquarters in Illinois.

"What we were hoping that the company would do," Gray says, "is send a directive out letting everybody know this is something that we don't tolerate."

That didn't happen. Robertson was sent home to change out of her Halloween costume and was back the same day; end of story. No diversity training, no counseling. No corporate directive.

"The thing that bothers me about it is they kept the thing quiet, so therefore there was no training from this mistake," Gray says.

In fact, the event didn't seem to faze many at Motorola, outside of the initial group that complained. It may not have been unusual for Robertson. One of the RIF'ed employees, Gwendolyan Dasher, reported to Robertson before her termination, and Dasher's lawyers argued that Robertson displayed racism in dealing with her:

"Dasher was the only African American in her group. Robertson assigned Dasher to do more physical work. She gave Dasher grunge work assignments and failed to adequately train Dasher, although she expected optimum output from Dasher. Robertson would verbally demean Dasher in front of other employees. She would wrongly accuse Dasher of goofing off and ask questions of Dasher in a loud and harsh voice in front of other employees."

Although the Aunt Jemima incident did not occur until six months after Dasher's termination, it was discussed in depositions and court documents.

In deposition, both EEO director Bernadette Phillips Garcia and GSTG vice president Ted Woods testified that they believed the action of just sending Robertson home to change was punishment enough.

In court documents filed last summer, Motorola argued successfully that Gwendolyan Dasher was not a victim of discrimination. That, in fact, Robertson had nothing to do with the decision to terminate her, and that, furthermore, the Aunt Jemima incident took place six months after Dasher's termination.

Motorola's lawyers went on to argue in comically terse legalese that dressing up as a "black syrup character" should not be construed as an expression of racial hatred:

"While the Aunt Jemima costume can rightfully be called politically incorrect or poor taste . . . a lack of political correctness or taste does not translate into racial hostility. Absent other, more significant evidence, arguments about Robertson's racial views based upon her appearance as a benevolent Black cook are simply speculation; she was not, after all, dressed like a KKK member, like Adolf Hitler, or like some other person who embodies a message of racial hatred," they argued.

But even so, Karen Robertson didn't come to work that day dressed as Julia Child.

Maceo Gray had remained in touch with fellow laid-off workers through the RIF Employees Association of Arizona, which he founded. In March of 1995, 21 of the former Motorolans, including Gray, filed a class-action lawsuit against their previous employer in United States District Court in Phoenix.

The former employees selected Givens, Pursley and Huntley, a Boise, Idaho, law firm, to represent them. Gray had originally contacted the firm after a RIF'ed employee traveling in Idaho had seen a newspaper article mentioning that the firm had represented plaintiffs in a successful discrimination suit against Carnation dairy company. Law-firm partner Robert Huntley, a former Idaho supreme court justice, has a reputation for representing plaintiffs in cases against corporate giants. Huntley did not return calls from New Times.

As the lawsuit went forward, it produced a sworn record of substantive descriptions of unseemly incidents that, illegal or not, have left bitter memories among the plaintiffs, whose stories of Motorola echo the experiences of Doris and Maceo Gray.

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