German company's local branch under fire for discrimination

February 8, 2012

Download Story
(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
Before Montrelle Reese quit, he was the only African American salesman in the company branch.

A multi-national company with Chicago-area branches is apologizing for racial discrimination.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corporation is based in Germany and has an office in Chicago's western suburbs. In 2010, employee Montrelle Reese filed a lawsuit against the company for discrimination. His complaints include use of the N-word by direct supervisors and a blackface skit at a company meeting.

Christian König is President and Head of the company's Washington, D.C. Representative Office. He said he first learned about the situation from media reports this past weekend and called it embarrassing.

"Improper, discriminatory harrassing is not acceptable to us," König said in a press conference Wednesday.

Former employee Montrelle Reese, an African American, said the company has a long way to go toward improving.

"They're gonna have to make it right with me, they're gonna have to make it right with the community, they're gonna have to make this company right," Reese said.

Reese said if it weren't for media coverage, the company head would have likely remained ignorant of the situation. Reese's lawyer said he's prepared to sue for damages.

Adding pressure is Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Reese, König and other representatives this week and announced Rainbow PUSH is buying stock in ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corp. He said he's doing it to gain access to shareholder information and to "raise some more basic questions." Jackson said this is just one of around 50 companies in the Chicago-area his organization is monitoring through being shareholders. Jackson said the company needs to create equal opportunities for employees.

"Companies can either decide to confront or comply. I hope they comply - with the law," Jackson said. He added of 120 employees in one branch, there remains only one African American employee since Reese quit in 2010.

König said the multi-national elevator company will be investigating the discrimination claims, taking disciplinary action, and will work to better its environment. 

ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corporation recently announced it'll be moving its North American regional headquarters to Chicago.