Woman sues NASCAR for racial, sexual harassment
- As an aspiring racing official, Mauricia Grant had grown used to
working in a man's world.
When she finally made it into NASCAR, Grant was appalled at the way
she says she was treated beginning from her first day on the job until
her firing last October.
Now she's suing NASCAR for $225 million, alleging racial and sexual
discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
"I loved it. It was a great, exciting, adrenaline-filled job where I
worked with fast cars and the best drivers in the world," Grant told
The Associated Press. "But there was an ongoing daily pattern (of
harassment). It was the nature of the people I worked with, the people
who ran it, it trickled down from the top.
"It's just the way things are in the garage."
The 32-year-old Grant, who is black, worked as a technical inspector
responsible for certifying cars in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide
Series from January 2005 until her termination. In the lawsuit, she
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
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 23 specific incidents of alleged sexual
harassment and 34 specific incidents of alleged racial and gender
discrimination beginning when she was hired in January 2005 through
her October 2007 firing.
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, adding
NASCAR has a zero tolerance policy for harassment.
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.
Grant told the AP her two younger sisters witnessed racial
discrimination against the official while visiting her at Daytona
International Speedway in 2006 and encouraged her to document every
incident going forward.
The lawsuit details a series of those 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 car pool 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.
After her termination, Grant said she went over her notes and
recognized "a pattern of retaliation and discrimination."
"It didn't diminish my love for the sport of auto racing, but the job
wasn't always the easiest thing to go to every day," she said.
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 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
"It is time for NASCAR to realize that not everbody is going to be
bought off and not file a complaint," said Grant's attorney, Benedict
P. Morelli of Morelli Ratner PC. "Not everybody is going to be
intimidated and not file a complaint. Not everybody is going to be
blackballed and not file a complaint."
In addition, the suit claims official Heather Gambino was fired in
2006 for complaining about a sexually hostile work environment. The
suit also claims former official Dean Duckett, who is black, was
reprimanded and ultimately fired last November for using "aggressive
language toward a white co-worker."
Among those identified in Grant's 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
"My supervisors all praised me. I was hanging in there with the guys,"
she said. "I am an athletic person. I went over the wall and faced
malicious crews and competitive crew chiefs, and I was right there and
held it down and was never lazy about it.
"And I knew that once I was terminated, there wasn't going to be an
opportunity for me to find another industry like NASCAR to practice my