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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Mauricia Grant harassment suit has been settled … so what did NASCAR learn?

NASCAR’s short, potential nightmare is over.

The sport grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this year when former Nationwide Series inspector Mauricia Grant filed a $225 million lawsuit that claimed she was the victim of racist comments and sexual harassment by some of her colleagues.

At the time, everyone wondered what happened. Was she really the victim of a hostile workplace that was proof the racist good-old-boy network of old-time NASCAR had never gone away?

Or was NASCAR’s story true, as they said she never complained to her superiors about any mistreatment, was often reprimanded often for being late to work and was fired for issues unrelated to her race or gender. If you read between the lines, they basically implied she was a gold digger, trying to squeeze money out of NASCAR based on false premises.

As I predicted at the time, NASCAR backed off and has settled the suit with Grant, though the terms were not released. Considering that some of Grant’s co-workers have been fired since the charges were made, it’s clear there was at least some harassment of Grant, and NASCAR did not want any more of their dirty laundry released in a court case than has already been unearthed by this lawsuit.

They had to settle this case, because the alternative of a lengthy court battle with all the dirty details coming out little by little was a far worse alternative. They couldn‘t afford the bad publicity that would have brought, as it could have cost them many, many fans -- and more importantly those fans‘ money.

The $225 million figure was just a headline-grabber from the start, and I’m guessing Grant ended up with at least a few million bucks, enough that she never has to work another day in her life. While I don’t think she deserved nothing, I fail to see why she would deserve more than a few years of salary. But that’s not the point. Gold digger or not, she has her money and will move on with her life.

The important question is what does NASCAR learn from this? It’s clear some people were in the wrong, and they were dismissed. To avoid this in the future, NASCAR needs to make it clear to employees that this type of racism, sexism, etc., will not be tolerated, and seriously institute sensitivity training or whatever you want to call it. Otherwise, these suits will continue to haunt them.

Even if Grant overstated her case to get paid (which I think is very possible), she did do one good thing -- alerted NASCAR that there are still some idiots working for the company who think it’s OK to insult someone based on their race or gender. Most NASCAR workers have progressed beyond this outdated mindset, now hopefully this lawsuit has served notice to the remaining idiots that they will be unemployed if they don’t adjust their mindset past the 1950s. Or, at the very least, let’s hope they realize they should keep their outdated opinions to themselves or within the walls of their homes.

Despite having lost a few bucks, NASCAR comes out of this as well as they could have. Now, they do not have to deal with the mountain of bad press that a trial accusing them of racism would have brought. The downside could have been much, much worse … because if they were labeled as racist by the press, fulfilling the false stereotypes so many non-NASCAR fans already have about the sport, they could have lost many more millions from potential fans who would decide not to support a racist organization.

This settlement was really the only option, and both sides knew it from the start. If the suit had been completely baseless, NASCAR would probably have fought it. But when it became clear some employees had been in the wrong and they were disciplined, logic dictated that some money had to be given out.

Just how extreme the insults and actions against Grant were is known only by her and her co-workers. But it’s clear they existed in some form. It was a reminder of a time in America when racial insults were a regular occurrence, and this is a sport with a dark history regarding race (such as not giving Wendell Scott his trophy when he won a race because of the potential crowd reaction, and the fact that the white trophy girls usually kissed the winner), but I hope this is a turning point.

I hope that from this point on, we don’t hear of any more incidents like this in NASCAR.

I recognize that there are racist people in every place of business in America, but I hope we hear no more about idiots like that within the NASCAR organization. This sport has come far in its views of the world, and I hope the people who would send us back in time now realize how much their ignorant views and actions are a detriment to the sport, and will keep their mouths shut.

Detroit Grand Prix postponed due to economic woes
The latest victim of the economic malaise overtaking Michigan is the 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which has been postponed. Also, earlier this week, the Craftsman Truck Series race in Mansfield, Ohio, was cancelled, and I have a feeling other races in various series may fall off the map this year. Businesses in areas like the Midwest that are particularly hard-hit by the recession are struggling just to survive, so sponsoring motorsports events is the last thing on their mind. Without the proper number of sponsors, there is no race. It’s simple economics.

“The economic environment that our region, state and country faces, both today and in 2009, is difficult,” said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “It is unfortunate that we must postpone the 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix as sponsorship opportunities and support has proven to be very challenging for the event in the near term.”

The biggest shame is that in these tough economic times, big events like the Grand Prix weekend bring people out in Detroit and money is spent that helps support the struggling local businesses. And a lot of that money came from people outside Michigan, who made up about half the crowd watching the races in 2007 and 2008, bringing much-needed money to the area. Every large, crowd-drawing event that is cancelled is yet another blow to the economy of Michigan.

Sadly, I am not at all surprised by this news, and won’t be surprised if a variety of racing series have to shorten their schedules before they even begin in 2009 due to sponsorship issues like this.

Let’s hope things turn around and we can get the Grand Prix back for 2010.


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