Longform

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.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.