Ex-worker accuses ThyssenKrupp of discrimination

February 7, 2012 4:20:38 PM PST
A company that recently announced it would move its headquarters to Chicago has been accused of racial discrimination.

While ThyssenKrupp says it will not tolerate discriminatory behavior, a Chicago-area worker who made the accusations is telling his story.

A photo, which appears to show a white ThyssenKrupp employee in black face performing a skit at a sales conference, is an example of what Montrelle Reese says co-workers subjected him to.

"I had to deal with it. That was my livelihood," said Reese. "What could I do?"

The 33-year-old Reese said his co-workers in Westchester routinely made off-color jokes about people on the South Side and even his direct supervisor, he said, openly used the n-word.

"The first time he said it he laughingly apologized. Second time he said it he shrugged his shoulders and went on," Reese said.

Reese, who was one of only three black employees at the 65-person office and the only black sales rep, says he eventually quit after feeling helpless.

"This is one of the highest grossing region in the country," said Stephen Potts, Reese's attorney.

An Illinois Department of Human Rights investigation found "substantial evidence" of harassment.

On Tuesday, the head of the ThyssenKrupp apologized and acknowledged "mistakes were made" saying in a statement "there is no room in our Organization for discriminatory conduct or harassment."

"He must have restitution, a settlement that corresponds to the crime," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

It was just last Thursday that ThyssenKrupp and Mayor Emanuel announced the company would locate its North American headquarters in Chicago.

"We are looking for the best people that we can get, the nicest place, the best logistics," said Torsten Gessner, CEO, ThyssenKrupp North America.

"The culture is almost accepted to behave in an unacceptable manner," said Reese.

Rev. Jackson is planning a news conference Wednesday at the office in question. He will be joined by the executive who will apologize in person.