Black men suing Montgomery Hyundai plant for racial discrimination: White manager was called ‘master’

By William Thornton 

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama is the subject of another racial discrimination lawsuit – this time filed by five Black men who say they were denied promotions, punished with writeups and, in one instance, told to report to a white manager who was referred to as “master.”

The 34-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Alabama’s Middle District, comes a month after former HMMA Director of Administration Yvette Gilkey-Shuford sued the company for racial and gender discrimination. The new suit seeks back pay, lost benefits, compensatory and punitive damages.

Robert Burns, vice president of human resources and administration for HMMA, said the company does not comment on the details of pending litigation.

“HMMA provides a workplace free of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, national origin or ancestry, citizenship status, physical or mental disability, genetic information, veteran status, uniformed service member status or any other status protected by federal, state or local law,” Burns said in a statement.

According to the suit, Blacks can only rise to a certain managerial level, but comprise a larger percentage of workers who are subjected to more physically demanding work. One of the men details how, once he applied for a higher leadership position, the vacancy was withdrawn.

On another occasion in 2020, the suit states, a white manager approached a group of about 30 Black employees, saying their supervisor, who he referred to as “master,” wanted them inside. When informed the language was offensive, the manager ignored them.

The plant’s “rank-and-file employees fear a culture of retaliation and reprisal if they report discriminatory conduct within the plant,” the suit states.

The five men also allege that Hyundai keeps a list of employees who make discrimination complaints, and that employees can be denied promotion, disciplined, demoted or terminated for making complaints. This despite the Hyundai workforce being staffed by about 85% Black employees.

One challenged several disciplinary measures and was told by other employees, “they want you fired.” Another contends he was terminated after disciplinary measures that were harsher than for his white coworkers for similar infractions.

Another took an extended medical leave. When he returned, he was told he had been reassigned to chassis marriage, one of the more physically demanding jobs, which does not align with company policy following medical leave, the suit states.

Artur Davis, who is co-representing the men, said the four still employed at Hyundai “are risking good paying jobs by standing up for their rights,” he said.

“They are frustrated but they refuse to work on a plantation and no one is their master,” Davis said.