A former racing official is suing NASCAR for $250 million, alleging racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
Mauricia Grant, who is black, worked as a technical inspector responsible for certifying cars in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series from January 2005 until she was fired last October.
Grant alleged she was referred to as "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba," by co-workers, was often told she worked on "colored people time," and was frightened by one official who routinely made references to the Ku Klux Klan.
In addition, Grant said she was subjected to sexual advances from male co-workers, two of whom allegedly exposed themselves to her, and graphic and lewd jokes.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, lists multiple incidents of alleged sexual harassment and alleged racial discrimination beginning when she was hired in January 2005 thru her October firing.
"NASCAR perpetuated, condoned and actively participated in perverted and disgusting sexual conduct designed to demean and diminish (Grant) and the handful of other women employed by NASCAR as officials," according to the suit.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said the organization had not yet reviewed the suit.
"As an equal opportunity employer, NASCAR is fully committed to the spirit and letter of affirmative action law," Poston said. "NASCAR provides equal opportunity employment to job candidates and employees without regard to race, religion, creed, age, gender, or any other characteristic protected by law. Personnel decisions are made based on factors such as performance and adherence to corporate policy."
Poston also said NASCAR has a zero tolerance policy for harassment, and will address Grant's claims in its response to her suit.
In the lawsuit, Grant said she complained numerous times to her supervisors about how she was treated, to no avail. On one occasion, Grant said Nationwide Series director Joe Balash, her immediate supervisor, was dismissive of her complaints, explaining her co-workers were "former military guys" with a rough sense of humor. "You just have to deal with it," she says Balash told her.
On another occasion, she alleged Balash participated in the harassment.
"Does your workout include an urban obstacle course with a flat-screen TV on your back?" she claimed Balash asked her during the week of July 28, 2007 while working in Indianapolis.
The lawsuit details a series of alleged incidents:
Grant was forced to work outside more often than the white male officials because her supervisors believed she couldn't sunburn because she was black.
While riding in the backseat of her carpool at Talladega Superspeedway, co-workers told her to duck as they passed race fans. "I don't want to start a riot when these fans see a black woman in my car," she claims one official said.
When packing up a dark garage at Texas Motor Speedway an official told Grant: "Keep smiling and pop your eyes out 'cause we can't see you."
When she ignored advances from co-workers, Grant was accused of being gay. She also claimed co-workers questioned the sexual orientation of two other female officials.
Grant said she routinely complained to her supervisors. Two weeks after her final complaint, Grant said she was warned during the week of August 18, 2007 at Michigan International Speedway that she had engaged in "conduct unbecoming of a NASCAR representative" and would be fired unless she changed her behavior. She said the warning stemmed from a confrontation Grant had with a track official who stopped her as she passed through a gate to use the restroom.
Roughly two months later, Grant was fired, and NASCAR cited a poor work performance in ending her employment. The lawsuit claims other than a previous warning for using "street" language, Grant had never been disciplined for job performance and routinely received positive reviews.
In addition, the suit claims officials Heather Gambino and Jane Hayes were fired in 2006 for separately complaining about a sexually hostile work environment. The suit also claims former official Dean Duckett, who was black, was reprimanded and ultimately fired in November for using "aggressive language toward a white co-worker."
Among those identified in the suit are Balash, assistant series director Mike Dolan, supervisors Alan Shephard and Dennis Dillon, NASCAR's senior manager for business relations, the human resources director and 17 of Grant's fellow officials. All of the defendants are white.
Grant claims she continues to suffer from severe emotional distress, including depression, anxiety, nightmares, sleep disturbance, crying jags, headaches and gastrointestinal distress since her firing. She's been unemployed since.