John Deere Des Moines Works employee sues over racist jokes and threats

A former Iowa employee recently sued Deere & Co., alleging co-workers and supervisors subjected him to racist jokes and threats for years.

Johnnie Ray Hogan III, who has worked at John Deere Des Moines Works in Ankeny since 2010, said many employees called him “the angry black man” and refused to associate with him once he left. complained about how they treated him, according to a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court in late June. He also alleged that his superiors scrutinized his work more.

Hogan, 40, of Pleasant Hill, is suing the company for harassment and discrimination based on race, as well as retaliation.

“John Deere allowed a culture of racism to flourish and thrive within the Des Moines Works plant,” his attorney, Roxanne Conlin, wrote in the lawsuit. “…Johnnie Hogan has been insulted, harassed, belittled, humiliated and excluded because he is a black man.”

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Deere employs about 1,000 workers at the Ankeny plant, best known for its production of cotton sprayers and pickers. The company’s attorneys did not file a response to the complaint.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation,” a spokesperson said Friday. “However, discrimination and harassment in the workplace have no place at John Deere and the allegations do not reflect our principles and expectations of our employees.”

Outside John Deere's Ankeny location on Wednesday October 13, 2021.

According to the lawsuit, a co-worker gave Hogan the nickname “Angry Black Man” in 2019. The name stuck, other co-workers and supervisors allegedly used it in meetings.

In December of that year, according to the lawsuit, Hogan’s supervisor in the shipping department called him into his office and showed him a photo of a biracial baby. She reportedly asked him, “Which of your cousins ​​or homies got their hands on my baby?”

During a lunch break in January 2020, according to the lawsuit, three colleagues joked about Hogan eating fried chicken, a racist trope about black people. When Hogan told a colleague he had worked in the cotton department, the colleague reportedly said, “It’s good that you and your ancestors have something in common,” an apparent allusion to American slaves picking cotton in the 1800s.

In March 2020, according to the lawsuit, a co-worker asked Hogan to teach him how to make cornbread because his wife “really likes black cornbread.” Hogan said he spoke to a civil rights liaison about his colleagues’ racist comments in November 2020. But, according to the lawsuit, “nothing happened as a result.”

A month later, Hogan’s team leader reportedly threatened him, saying he “needed to be chained to a dock”. That same day, according to the lawsuit, a colleague told Hogan that no one could find him if someone threw him in a box full of black machine parts.

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In January 2021, according to the lawsuit, a supervisor and some co-workers began calling Hogan “boyish.” Some supervisors and colleagues would have called it a racial slur at that time.

United Auto Workers, who work on John Deere products, picketed the Deere & Co. Des Moines Works site, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Ankeny.

In March 2021, the company fired one of Hogan’s supervisors after Hogan complained to Deere’s labor relations manager, according to the lawsuit. Hogan said he felt isolated afterwards, with co-workers and supervisors avoiding him.

He alleged that a supervisor backed away from him whenever he tried to talk to him. Other Deere employees said they would speak to Hogan only in the presence of a witness, according to the lawsuit.

After Hogan filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in March 2021, he said managers “began to excessively monitor and harass him for menial matters,” according to the lawsuit. . He said they tracked how long he went to the bathroom and visited his workstation eight to 12 times a day, “much more often than any other assembler”.

“Plaintiff is constantly worried about what will happen next and is walking on eggshells to avoid angering his supervisors who are still watching him,” Conlin wrote in the complaint.

In late May, according to the lawsuit, Deere granted Hogan a short-term disability after saying he suffered from mental and emotional distress.

In addition to seeking damages, Hogan asked a judge to file an injunction against Deere and the supervisors, requiring them to take action to prevent further racial discrimination at the plant.

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Contact him at [email protected], 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.

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