Ford Motor Company apologized to its employees on Thursday for sexual harassment at two Chicago plants, addressing accusations that span more than a quarter-century.
Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and chief executive, released an open letter, saying in part: “I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct. On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.”
The letter followed the publication of a New York Times article based on interviews with more than 70 current and former workers detailing accounts of sexual harassment and retaliation at the two factories, Chicago Assembly and Chicago Stamping. “Candidly, it was gut wrenching to read the accounts of these women in The New York Times article,” Mr. Hackett wrote, adding that “there is absolutely no room for harassment at Ford Motor Company.”
Harassment complaints had prompted several previous lawsuits and two settlements with the federal agency that combats workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In August, the agency reached a $10 million agreement with Ford over sexual and racial harassment at the plants. A separate lawsuit with about 30 plaintiffs is still making its way through the courts. In the 1990s, a string of lawsuits and an E.E.O.C. investigation resulted in a $22 million settlement and a commitment by Ford to crack down. As is customary, Ford did not admit liability in either settlement.
Suzette Wright, a former Ford worker who joined one of the suits, longed for the company to apologize. After a settlement was announced in 1999, she barged into a news conference and demanded an apology from a Ford executive, who issued a carefully parsed statement that stopped short of the unreserved apology Mr. Hackett issued on Thursday.
When told of the letter, Ms. Wright began to cry. “I’m glad they did that,” she said. “You can’t make a change without acknowledging that you did something wrong.” Ms. Wright said she left Ford after she was told it was a condition of her settlement; Ford lawyers said that was optional.
Mr. Hackett outlined a number of measures that Ford had taken, including extensive training programs, increased staffing to investigate complaints, monetary awards that would be available through the settlement and independent monitors who would oversee compliance for up to five years.
But Mr. Hackett acknowledged in the letter that there was more to do, and said that he would travel to Chicago after the holidays to speak with employees there. “This has been a learning experience about how difficult it is to root out bad behavior,” he said.