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

Regina Ford, an African-American woman, was hired by Motorola as a senior engineer in 1988--and was RIF'ed in 1993. But even before she was laid off, Ford had complaints about Motorola. She took a leave of absence during her tenure there to continue her education, figuring that would get her further than staying at the company.

Motorola, she says, "is a place where I have seen little to no growth for African Americans period, male or female. Even before I had left, and part of the reason I went ahead to pursue my studies, was that I didn't see growth. All the black engineers I know that worked there ended up quitting or they never got any promotions."

The glass ceiling, Ford adds, is so low, "it's almost like a glass basement."

Ford is working on a Ph.D. in industrial engineering at Arizona State University, and hopes to eventually find a teaching position.

"I'm not very keen on working for large corporations anymore," she says.
Her case was dismissed this spring. She places partial blame on groups like the NAACP, which, she says, turned their backs on the plaintiffs.

"Motorola keeps everybody happy in this town. It's a big little town, you know what I'm saying? And people are happy when Motorola buys a table for their banquet," Ford says.

"They [African-American community leaders] should have been there to help us in our case and give us publicity, and I believe that had that been the case, the judge wouldn't have been able to so easily dismiss our cases. . . . They keep their mouths shut over $1,000."

Sandi Massaquoi, an African man who was RIF'ed, moved from Texas to Arizona fresh out of college to take a position as an engineer. He, too, was quickly disillusioned.

"I was given jobs that were basically menial jobs for me, with my degree, and it was leading me to nowhere."

When he requested time off for his brother's funeral in Sierra Leone, his boss discouraged him. He went anyhow, but upon his return, his boss took him off the project he had been working on before he left, Massaquoi says.

He says he complained to management when a white co-worker told him he had only been hired because of his skin color. Management did nothing, Massaquoi claims.

"This is the way I see the crux of the whole matter," Massaquoi says. "When they [Motorola] want to get these contracts with the government, they try to get people who are qualified, based on the affirmative-action quota. And once they get these people in, and the contract's running down, they want to eliminate them."

Massaquoi's suit was dismissed this spring, as well. He has not found a job, and eventually hopes to return to Africa. He says he won't forget what happened to him at Motorola.

"That is the story that I am going to take with me when I go back overseas," he says. "I don't think Motorola is going to have a chance to be operating in Africa. We're in a merger market, and we've got long memories. We'll see where it goes."

Ann Lourge, a white material planner who was RIF'ed, says she has only heard secondhand of mistreatment of African Americans at Motorola. But Lourge says she sees a correlation between the way Motorola relates with the African-American community and the way it relates with other communities.

She notes Motorola's public relations campaigns, designed to improve the company's image in the wake of bad publicity stemming from two class-action lawsuits brought against the company in state and federal courts.

In the lawsuits, plaintiffs allege numerous health problems--including cancer--have been caused by Motorola's severe and extensive contamination of groundwater beneath Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Lourge says, "It seems that just before I left, they were doing a big bone-marrow-transfer push to get you [employees] listed. And that was about the same time they were having cancer cases from the so-called two different cancer cells in town." Lawsuits filed by alleged victims are expected to go to trial within the next year.

Most likely, what Ann Lourge noticed was not just a coincidence. Last month, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that it had obtained videotapes prepared by Motorola, in which the company's executives advise employees who deal with the public to play up Motorola's environment-friendly image, in order to create a sympathetic jury pool for ongoing litigation.

In February 1995, the Greater Phoenix Urban League presented its coveted Whitney M. Young Jr. award to Motorola. In a video created to commemorate the event, newscaster Bill Mosley explains, "We look at the very core of their [Motorola's] corporate philosophy: employee respect at all levels."

A string of Motorola executives--all of whom would have known about the class-action discrimination lawsuit filed just months before--stare into the camera and discuss Motorola's philosophy of "constant respect for people."

Earl Cobb, a male African-American employee at GSTG, says, "They treat their people right. They walk their talk."

The video goes on to detail Motorola employees' "stellar commitment to community service," including donating money for a float in the Fiesta Bowl parade, raising millions for the United Way and participating in environmental cleanup efforts.

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