Is Motorola Harboring Diversity or Disrespect?
In the summer of 1993, Motorola's Scottsdale-based Government Systems Technology Group treated its employees to an in-house video. Along with campy old Motorola commercials and marketplace updates, the reel profiled Doris Gray, an African-American senior contracts manager.
Gray, Motorolans learned, is an art collector, philanthropist and businesswoman with a "dizzying schedule" and a fascination with the culture of her ancestors. Doris models an African tribal costume from her vast collection. She is shown visiting with senior citizens, accepting a plaque from a Girl Scout troop and at home at her Scottsdale apartment with her husband, Maceo, a bidding estimator with the company. Maceo and Doris, the narrator gushes, are both members of The Network, a multicultural, civic-minded group of Motorola employees.
Inspiring stuff for up-and-coming minority workers at Motorola. Too bad the Grays now view the video as a bad joke.
In May 1993--shortly after the video of the Grays was shot, but before it was screened--Maceo Gray was fired from Motorola. He was one of 69 employees, including six African Americans and three Hispanics, laid off in an involuntary reduction in force at the Government Systems Technology Group, which, then, was operating under government contracts almost exclusively. The group has recently been renamed the Space and Systems Technology Group, an acknowledgement of its tilt away from government contracts and toward the private marketplace. RIFs aren't uncommon at Motorola, and because he had worked at the company for only four years, Maceo Gray was a natural target.
But Gray, now 47, claims his firing was the result of race and age discrimination, exacerbated by his willingness to speak out against perceived unfairness affecting himself and others. In 1994, he and 20 other RIF'ed employees filed a class-action lawsuit claiming discrimination based on--depending upon the individual--gender, age and/or ethnicity. Today, three plaintiffs remain in the suit. Ten have been dismissed by the judge. Eight have settled with Motorola; a confidentiality agreement ensures secrecy. Maceo Gray's case remains undecided; the judge has not ruled on Motorola's March 1996 motion to dismiss his case. Doris Gray continues to work for Motorola at a salary exceeding $100,000 a year, and receives good job-performance ratings, although she has not been promoted since her husband was fired four years ago.
A close look at Maceo Gray's case and the turmoil surrounding it suggests a racial atmosphere inside Motorola that clashes harshly with the public image of the company. Long a financial supporter of such events as the NAACP's Freedom Forum dinner, the Greater Phoenix Urban League's Whitney M. Young Jr. awards dinner and the City of Phoenix's Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, Motorola has won awards for its progressive racial attitudes.
But in sworn depositions of its employees taken in conjunction with the lawsuit--many of which have been obtained by New Times--and interviews with some RIF'ed Motorolans are tales that describe something closer to a plantation mentality: A white boss dressed up like Aunt Jemima, a racist token given to an African-American employee, minority workers sidelined to inconsequential or no-brainer work for which they are overqualified, and an African American labeled a troublemaker and then fired after he complained about such activities. More puzzling is that local African-American leaders seem to know nothing about the lawsuit. For Motorola's part, there's good reason. For Maceo Gray, it's not for lack of trying.
Gray insists he'll see the case through--and continue to try to put it in the spotlight--until he gets his day in court. Then, he says, he'd like to get out of Arizona. Like many other African Americans employed by Motorola, the Grays were recruited from elsewhere to work for the company.
However one views the legal case, no one can deny the heavy burden of the petty assaults the Grays have catalogued. Taken one by one, they may not seem so bad; stacked up, they evoke a hostile working environment, particularly prickly for African Americans, the opposite of what Motorola claims it provides. And no matter how Maceo Gray's case is resolved legally, he's managed to amass a convincing amount of evidence that something's wrong racially at Motorola.
"The only reason I'm staying [in Arizona]," Gray says, "is because they're paying my wife a heck of a lot of money and I'm like in a poker game. I'm waiting for that diamond flush. I've invested too much to give up."
It was 1988. Doris and Maceo Gray flipped a coin. He lost, so they moved to Arizona.
The Grays were living in Daytona Beach, Florida. Doris was working for General Electric, and Maceo had taken a break from his marketing career (which included 14 years at Exxon) to open a gourmet shop/restaurant. The shop, called "DorMace's," was a converted gas station/convenience store--a prototype for a chain of shops Maceo Gray hoped someday to launch.
That hope crumbled when a headhunter approached Doris Gray with a tantalizing offer: Move to Scottsdale to be a senior contracts manager for Motorola. Maceo wanted to stay, so they flipped. He called heads. The coin said tails.
They sold DorMace's and found an apartment in Scottsdale. Motorola offered Maceo Gray work; his marketing skills didn't quite fit the job description, so he took an entry-level administrative position.
On paper, at least, the arrival of Doris Gray was a coup for Motorola, and Maceo appeared to be a good hire as well. Doris received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her law degree from George Washington Law Center. Maceo graduated from the University of Montana, and had taken additional business courses.
Initially, Maceo Gray did well. He was placed in a rotational program designed to groom managers, and received high marks from supervisors. Doris Gray encountered bad signs almost immediately. A June 1990 memo from Doris Gray to Kermit Beseke--business director of her department, and her immediate supervisor--admonishes him for, she says, having told her to "shut up." She writes, "This memo serves as notice that I will not tolerate being 'talked down to,' disparaged or berated by you or anyone else at Motorola. (Doris Gray chose not to speak to New Times. Her story is gleaned from legal documents and interviews with others.)
In July of 1990, Maceo Gray wrote to corporate managers complaining that Beseke was harassing his wife, and that in particular he had called her a "shithead." The complaint spurred an internal investigation.
In a later letter to Motorola management, requesting an update on the investigation, Maceo Gray wrote that Beseke had told his wife that "a wounded animal is dangerous," implying that Beseke would seek revenge.
Beseke is no longer employed by Motorola.
There were no obvious repercussions from the incident involving Beseke. In March 1991, Maceo Gray was transferred to a supervisor, Wayne Stoltz, who wrote a less-than-glowing review of Gray after only supervising him for a few days. That followed two years with high performance-review ratings.
After minimizing Gray's value otherwise, Stoltz noted in the review that Gray "serves as a 'good will ambassador' to outside minority groups, when requested by Motorola management, on a voluntary basis."
"When you say these type of things on an appraisal at a high-tech company--I'm not there for social [purposes]," Gray says. "I'm there for selling, writing proposals, compliance and other things. Don't put this type of label on me."
Gray managed to obtain a transfer three months later, and his work situation improved. He became active in The Network, an employee group designed to promote minority concerns, and also to perform public service. Eventually, Gray became the group's leader, and soon developed a difficult working relationship with Bernadette Phillips Garcia, manager of GSTG's Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action department.
"People would come to me with their problems," Gray says. "What we would do, we would train people. Some of the blacks that would come in, their bosses and managers didn't want to do personnel development. So we educated them, showed them how to present themselves in front of management so they could go up in the corporation."
Gray says Garcia became upset with him because he was doing her job.
The rift officially developed, Gray says, after he argued with her regarding Doris Gray's nomination for the prestigious Black Engineer of the Year award. Garcia argued that, because Doris was not an engineer (she has a law degree), she was not qualified for the award. Doris was eventually nominated for and won the award.
Doris Gray's immediate supervisor, Bob Wigington, refused her invitation to attend the Black Engineer of the Year award dinner in Maryland. In a letter to her attorney, Doris Gray says Wigington told her he did not want to attend the dinner because his wife was not used to being around African Americans and might be uncomfortable.
It was that honor that led Doris Gray to a less enviable one--the Big Black Beatific Buddha doll. Doris Gray received the doll shortly after her return from Maryland; it was intended as backhanded congratulations from members of her department.
The award stood about four feet tall, Maceo Gray recalls--a Buddha doll painted black with a metal arc attached to its hands, with assorted sports balls (tennis balls, rubber balls, a badminton birdie) glued to the arc. The doll was labeled, "The woman that has all the balls."
In deposition, Motorola human-resources director Gwen O'Connor testified that to her knowledge, the award was passed out as a joke to employees in Doris Gray's department. In the past, the doll had kept its original color (depicting a person of Asian descent), but when it was given to a black person, O'Connor testified, it was painted black.
Although she acknowledged that she believed the award was racially insensitive, O'Connor said she did not believe it was intended to be offensive.
O'Connor recalled hearing about the award from someone in Doris Gray's department, but could not remember who.
She said in deposition, "Apparently, it was just a Buddha, and this person said, 'I was in the group when we initiated that award and we used to give it in fun to each other for some--something, you know.' It was sort of the biggest brown-noser or the biggest something. It was kind of a joke that they passed around the department. And he said it was always done in fun.
"And then I heard at some point in time they painted it black because I guess the recipient was going to be black. So the intent was to do it in fun; not to do it to be cruel."
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.
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.
George Dean, executive director of the Greater Phoenix Urban League, has never heard of Maceo Gray. But he does detail Motorola's substantial contributions to his organization.
For at least the past three years, Motorola has donated about $15,000 a year toward seats at the Urban League's annual dinner, has been a "key sponsor" of the group's annual golf tournament and has donated printers and computers. At least one Motorola executive sits on the league's board.
Like George Dean, Marvin Perry, director of the Black Board of Directors, a group that encourages African Americans to join boards of corporations and nonprofit organizations, has never heard of Gray. But Motorola, he says, has "absolutely sterling" performance in his organization.
Looking for help with his lawsuit, Gray did not appeal directly to Dean and Perry. He says he believed the Urban League would not go up against Motorola because of its financial support. But he approached both the national and local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, another group Motorola has donated to in the past. He has a turn-down letter from the national office.
Reverend Oscar Tillman, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the NAACP, says he recalls Maceo Gray's name, but just barely. Tillman says he was not in town when Gray's lawsuit was filed, and is surprised it has received almost no attention from African-American groups or the media.
"The fact is that for a company like Motorola, going through a downsizing like that, it should have been a major issue. I don't know what happened," Tillman says. "When you don't have a Reverend Tillman or somebody to carry the battle to the forefront, I guess it seems like it doesn't get anywhere, regrettably."
At the time the suit was filed, the Arizona Republic and Mesa Tribune wrote brief stories. The Phoenix Business Journal mentioned the case in a story about downsized older employees, and, subsequently, Maceo Gray secured a $25,000 grant from the national Association for the Advancement of Retired People to assist the class-action suit.
But to date, no publication or group--not even the Arizona Informant, whose motto is "We Record Black History"--has mentioned the Aunt Jemima incident or Big Beatific Black Buddha Award or any specific charges of racial discrimination made by the Grays and others in their case against Motorola.
Even the Grays' own pastor has a hard time choosing loyalties. Reverend Warren Stewart, pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church, says he knows Doris and Maceo Gray well, and respects them. He knows vaguely of Maceo Gray's lawsuit, and warns, "I don't think that you can judge a corporation by the activities of one or two of its supervisors. So Motorola could do a lot for the African-American community, and yet have a supervisor or some employees who do not reflect their basic principles."
In 1994, the Informant ran two stories about Gray's case; one was general, the other focused on the fact that three plaintiffs were Vietnam-era veterans. Both stories ran without bylines, but were taken almost directly from text prepared by Gray.
After the second article appeared, Gray says, he was told by an Informant employee that the paper would not print any more stories because Motorola advertised with the Informant.
Cloves Campbell Sr., publisher of the Arizona Informant, says that is not the case.
"No, we never said that. We said we couldn't get Motorola's side of the story," Campbell says, citing a lack of reporters.
"You see, let me explain something," Campbell continues. "You got people like that gentleman [Maceo Gray]--nobody knows them in the community until they get their butt in a wringer. And then all of a sudden they want everybody to drop everything they're doing and jump on their case. They don't belong to no black organizations until they get into trouble, then they quickly run and join. They don't even belong to a church in the community. You've got somebody here who wants you to use up all your resources on them, when they've completely ignored the community . . . when they were on top."
For the record, Maceo Gray says he joined the NAACP in 1982, joined the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix in 1989 and started subscribing to Arizona Informant in either 1992 or 1993.
Gray doesn't fault Campbell, or African-American groups who may have turned the other way, influenced by the funds they receive from Motorola.
"This is what happens when you're in a small community, where you really don't have a nucleus of black people to support things," he says. "These people are trying to survive."
Lawrence Moore, director of public affairs for Motorola's Space and Systems Technology Group, responds quickly to an interview request for this story while he is on a business trip in Moscow.
Moore is happy to discuss Motorola's extensive involvement in the Valley's African-American community. He rattles off a list of organizations--including the Arizona Council of Black Engineers and Scientists, Consortium of Black Organizations for the Arts, the Black Women's Task Force--that Motorola supports.
Typically, Motorola gives away grants to such organizations in the range of $2,500 to $3,500, Moore says, but it's not uncommon for a single donation to top $10,000.
Moore stresses that Motorola prides itself on two things: valuing workplace diversity and valuing employees' privacy. In other words, he doesn't have much to say about the RIFs or the lawsuit.
Moore declines to discuss ongoing litigation. As for the Aunt Jemima incident, he will not address it because it involves a specific employee. "Anecdotally," he says, "I was told that an individual did come on Halloween dressed as Aunt Jemima."
He confirms that the woman went home to change.
"Halloween is a difficult kind of situation, because, of course, we, along with the rest of American society, want to give employees an opportunity to enjoy that holiday," Moore says.
"Costumes of all kinds present a challenge," he adds, recalling that when he was a child, he wanted to dress like Satan for Halloween, but his uncle, a minister, prohibited it.
As for the Aunt Jemima incident, Moore places the responsibility on the shoulders of the injured party.
"What we encouraged in that situation, as we would in any situation," he says, "is that employees should step forward and indicate that they're taking an offense. And, of course, we ask all our employees to be sensitive to that."
Moore minimizes the impact of the Big Beatific Black Buddha award. "That was not an official Motorola award," he quickly points out. "What apparently happened . . . is that in a departmental recognition activity, there was a Buddha that was painted black. Once Motorola became aware of the situation, prompt action was taken. The specific nature of that action is between the employee and Motorola, and, as you know, we don't discuss personnel issues."
Motorola requires its managers to take diversity classes, Moore says, adding that "all of our employees are made aware of them and encouraged to take them."
Most important, Moore says, is Motorola's standing policy: "If someone feels that they are in a situation where by virtue of their race, national origin, sex, whatever, that there's an unfortunate situation, they are encouraged, a, to report it directly to their manager; b, to take advantage of our open-door policy and go as high in the organization chain as they want."
And it's understood that an employee who complains will not be victim of retribution?
"Absolutely understood," Moore says.
Doris and Maceo Gray still live in the apartment featured in the 1993 in-house Motorola video. African art still hangs on the walls, and sculpture shares space on the coffee table with Doris Gray's many awards. Maceo Gray has filled one of their three bedrooms with files documenting his case. He says the only work he has been able to find is part-time for a collection agency in addition to the hours he spends working on his case without pay.
As for Doris Gray, her feelings are summed up in a statement she wrote for her husband's lawyer, titled, "Impact to Spouse's Career As a Result of Motorola's Discrimination."
She wrote, "The impact of Motorola's discrimination against my spouse and their continuing discrimination and retaliation against me has resulted in my no longer enjoying my employment with Motorola.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.