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A few years ago, Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. was in a corporate horror story. Today, the automobile manufacturer may be an example worth following. In 1998, Mitsubishi settled a sexual harassment suit for $34 million with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — still believed to be the largest sexual harassment settlement ever under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In August 1998, it had also agreed to pay $3 million to individuals through a conciliation agreement with the EEOC after job applicants complained they were denied jobs by Mitsubishi in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, more recently, black and Hispanic employees settled individual and class actions claiming racial harassment and discrimination in promotions, job training, discipline, transfers and job assignments. In the March 2001 settlement, Mitsubishi agreed to pay more than $3 million, including attorney fees, and may owe millions more to roughly 230 employees who have filed claims with a special master. But the EEOC and the lawyers who filed those cases say Mitsubishi, with its zero tolerance policy, has cleaned up its act at its 3,175-employee factory in Normal, Ill., and is now a corporate model for training employees about the illegality of harassment and discrimination and investigating complaints when they arise. “My belief is that things have improved from when we began this litigation and that the improvement is substantial,” said John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago office, who helped prosecute the sexual harassment case. He and his boss, John Rowe, the district director of the Chicago office, and three plaintiffs’ lawyers all said they know things are better because employee complaints now are few and far between. AN OPD WITH TEETH Patricia Benassi, who was a plaintiff’s counsel in both the sex harassment and race discrimination suits, credits Mitsubishi’s president, Richard Gilligan, with setting the right tone for its much-lauded Opportunity Programs Department (OPD), which trains employees on zero tolerance and investigates complaints. Benassi, of Peoria, Ill.’s Benassi & Benassi, and others said OPD is effective because it has teeth. After the sex harassment case was settled with a consent decree, three court-appointed monitors observed the company for three years. In their final report, issued in May 2001, the monitors wrote that in the three years, OPD received 140 complaints under the consent decree and that in 52 cases, the zero tolerance policy was violated. In those 52 cases, eight employees were terminated, 14 others were suspended without pay, and 30 others were disciplined in a lesser way. The report said that Mitsubishi’s zero tolerance policy is “much stricter than the requirements of federal and state anti-discrimination statutes.” OPD, which is an independent unit at Mitsubishi, has six employees, including General Manager Gloria-Jeanne Davis and four investigators who investigate complaints and train employees. Davis, who has a master’s degree in business administration and personnel management from Eastern Kentucky University and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Illinois State University, spent 12 years before joining Mitsubishi in 1996 as the director of affirmative action at Illinois State. Davis says OPD’s mandatory training is key. Every new employee and then every employee every two years is given four hours of training in preventing sexual and sex-based harassment and in complying with state and federal discrimination laws. In addition, all employees are given instruction with the same frequency in Mitsubishi’s zero tolerance program, which states, “MMMA is dedicated to responding swiftly and firmly to any acts of such harassment, discrimination or retaliation, regardless of whether they are severe enough to constitute a violation of law.” “With our zero tolerance policy, I expect a workplace with almost no discomfort, although that is almost an impossibility,” said Davis. She said Mitsubishi consults with about 10 or so companies a year in the Normal area, helping them improve their own workplace compliance programs.

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