Mitsubishi Confronted With Another "Normal" Situation

August 6, 2001 ( - Mitsubishi once again finds itself under fire for behaviors at its plant in Normal, Illinois. This time five former supervisors have charged that they were laid off because of their age -- and in some cases, because they were not Japanese.

The lawsuit says Mitsubishi treated the plaintiffs less favorably than younger employees and replaced them with less experienced and less qualified younger workers during a downsizing in 1999.

The suit also alleged that a 68- year-old female manager of Japanese origin was spared by the layoffs, claiming she “was selectively retained because of her Japanese ancestry.’

Staff Cutbacks

In 1999, Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America reduced its work force by 207 staff and management positions, with the vast majority – 87 out of 111- of those cut being over age 40, while most of the staff retained were younger than the protected age, according to the lawsuit. All five plaintiffs in the most recent action were over 50 at the time ? and are seeking back pay, benefits and other specified damages.

In a statement, Mitsubishi said the layoffs were necessary to “improve manufacturing operations and streamline the organization.” The firm also said that the cutbacks were done “fairly and sensitively” –and says it plans to contest the suit.

Test “Patterns”

The 23-count lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Peoria last week and marks the latest of several worker suits from the Normal plant, according to the Associated Press.

The Japanese-based automaker paid a record $34 million fine in 1998 to settle a 1996 sex discrimination lawsuit by more than 300 women. The company also paid an additional $9.5 million to 27 women who pursued claims outside the class-action lawsuit.

The most recent case involved a $3.4 million settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by 11 workers early last year. That lawsuit alleged that supervisors at the Normal plant denied black workers promotions and transfers, used racial slurs and even allowed a noose to be displayed near a black worker’s locker.

– Nevin Adams