ThyssenKrupp denies racism allegation, looks forward to 'having our day in court'
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) stands alongside Torsten Gessner, Chairman and CEO of ThyssenKrupp North America, during an announcement Feb. 2. (Nancy Stone/ Chicago Tribune)
A superintendant at ThyssenKrupp used the N-word “routinely” around African-American sales representative Montrelle Reese, according to a November finding by the state Department of Human Rights.
Though the supervisor later claimed he was impersonating a rapper of Asian descent from the musical group Linkin Park, the skin-darkening showed the company “fosters an environment of accepted racial intolerance,” the report states.
Reese also alleged other salespeople made racially offensive comments and jokes about the South Side of Chicago, which was part of Reese’s sales territory for the company that makes elevators, auto components and carbon steel.
Reese, who worked for ThyssenKrupp from 2007 to 2010, plans to use the Department of Human Rights report as the basis of a lawsuit against the company, according to his attorney Stephen Potts.
“He’s devastated about this treatment,” Potts said.
Brian Jackson, an attorney for ThyssenKrupp, dismissed the allegations, arguing that the state’s report does not mean a law has been violated.
“We look forward to having our day in court,” Jackson said.
Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined ThyssenKrupp officials to announce that the company will locate its regional headquarters in Chicago, bringing 100 additional jobs to the city. ThyssenKrupp employs about 1,400 people in Illinois.
Responding Saturday to the state’s findings, a mayoral spokeswoman said that the administration has no tolerance for prejudice.
“Behavior of the sort alleged in the complaint has absolutely no place in the city of Chicago or anywhere,” spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said in an e-mail.
Jim Riegler, executive vice president of human resources for ThyssenKrupp Elevator, a division of the company, declined in an e-mail statement to discuss the specifics of Reese’s complaint.
But he said ThyssenKrupp “is dedicated to providing a discrimination-free work environment for our employees and to aggressively pursuing and investigating any and all claims of improper or illegal conduct within the organization.”