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July 03, 2001
Ford Wins Skirmishes in Employee Suit
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d Motor Co. won a motion Friday to prevent sensitive personnel records from being publicized before the start of a discrimination trial instigated by current and former employees.

The automaker also won a motion to have confidential documents removed from another legal brief related to the case, according to the Detroit News.

Defense lawyer Barbara Brown argued that the documents were not only confidential but stolen from the company's Dearborn headquarters.

Plaintiff's lawyer James Fett denied that the documents were stolen and questioned whether they were confidential. "They're not confidential just because the defense says it's so," he said.

Ford faces two class-action lawsuits and two individual suits challenging its year-old management evaluation system called Performance Management Program. Class-action plaintiff John Streeter, 56, contends the evaluation system was biased against older white males.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Edward Thomas denied a motion by the plaintiffs in the case to limit the time witnesses could be deposed by the defense to half a day. Fett argued it would be futile to allow open-ended questioning of any of the plaintiffs because "they all have very little personal knowledge of discrimination, they just know it's there."

PMP is used to evaluate 18,000 salaried workers, about 5 percent of Ford's global work force. Managers receive a grade of A, B, or C. The company had mandated at least 10 percent of the managers received C grades, though it later reduced that to 5 percent.

Employees who receive a C can be denied a bonus or raise. Two consecutive C grades are grounds for termination or demotion.

Plaintiffs allege older white males who had received positive reviews in the past were receiving C grades under PMP as a means of denying them raises or promotions, while less experienced women and minorities were receiving higher grades and being promoted.

Ford denies engaging in such a practice or using any specific quotas. A company spokesman did confirm the company has a desire to add "diversity" to its white-collar work force.

"We're not going to end the program. We're proud of the program," attorney Lippitt said during Friday's hearing.

Ford also faces a lawsuit by former Ford Credit human resources manager John Kovacs, who was suspended April 9 after sending a letter written on his behalf by attorney Fett to company chairman William Clay Ford Jr.

In the letter, he asked Ford to "eliminate the illegal and gender preferences presently practiced by Mr. Nasser (Ford President and CEO Jacques Nasser) and his minions," and to ensure Ford management "does not retaliate" against him.

Ford attorney Oliver Mitchell said Kovacs was suspended because attachments to the letter contained confidential human resources documents and that Kovacs improperly removed them from the company's Dearborn, Mich.-based headquarters.

Kovacs denies he stole the documents, saying "most" human resources staff are given laptop computers to use at home that can be used to access personnel records and company documents.

But Ford attorney Lippitt says when an employee signs onto the Ford system "there is a cautionary remark that everything is confidential."

To view the Detroit News article, click here.
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