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Employees, Lawsuits Paint Different Portraits Of Mitsubishi

April 18, 1996

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) _ With maximum publicity and a platoon of lawyers, the federal government marched in to protect women at a Mitsubishi auto plant from sexual harassment.

Just one problem: Many female employees say they don’t need any help.

Spurred on by management, women at the factory are signing petitions disputing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s claims. They, and their male co-workers, are buying ads, calling government officials and even planning a march on EEOC offices _ all to counter the allegations of sexual harassment.

``The charges and the allegations are outrageous. I’ve worked here almost eight years, and I haven’t seen the things they say are happening,″ Marcia Moncelle, a leader in the petition and fund-raising drive, said Wednesday.

The EEOC last week filed a lawsuit against Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc., and 29 women are suing the company on their own.

The EEOC lawsuit alleges that up to 700 women at the Normal plant in central Illinois were groped, fondled and subjected to obscene remarks and sexually explicit graffiti for years while managers did nothing.

Attorney Patricia Benassi amended the women’s lawsuit Wednesday, alleging that company workers sometimes organized sex parties with prostitutes. The lawsuit claims these parties were attended by managers and sexual photos were circulated at the plant with management’s knowledge.

Margaret Coleman went to work there hoping to find a lifelong career. She says sexual harassment drove her out in three years.

``It was really hard to go into that place every day. It’s demeaning,″ said Coleman, one of the women suing the company.

But many current workers _ men and women alike _ deny the allegations. They describe a workplace where most people get along and managers discipline those who get out of line.

They see the federal lawsuit as an attack on all employees there.

Mitsubishi management, worried about bad publicity, is encouraging workers to dispute the claims. At meetings after the federal lawsuit was filed, they warned that the publicity could damage sales and cost people their jobs.

Workers have raised $2,500 for a full-page ad in the local newspaper, Moncelle said, and they hope to raise more for ads elsewhere.

The plant provides 4,000 of the best-paying blue-collar jobs in the area. Workers build cars in a factory that has helped build the local economy.

Some say the allegations have more to do with personality than harassment _ women overreacting to juvenile jokes or reasonable criticism.

``I can’t say it’s without conflict, but it has been stuff I’ve been able to take care of,″ said one female employee, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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