Racial Suit At VW Settled, Class Action Pending
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Volkswagen of American Inc. Wednesday said it settled a lawsuit with the family of a black executive who committed suicide after leaving a note claiming he was being blackmailed over a racial discrimination suit.
The settlement was filed Friday in U.S. District Court, but details of the agreement were sealed by Judge Gustave Diamond at the request of both parties, said Helen Lampl, aide to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert O. Lampl.
Lampl represented the widow and children of William B. Brock, assistant personnel manager for VW’s southwestern Pennsylvania auto assembly plant.
Brock died Jan. 8, 1983, a day after agreeing to join a group of VW employees in filing a lawsuit in federal court charging the automaker with systematic discrimination against blacks. The discrimination suit, now with 22 plaintiffs, is pending before Diamond.
The plaintiffs are trying to have the lawsuit certified as a class action. The suit originally sought $70 million in damages.
Volkswagen officials denied trying to influence Brock. They also denied published reports that the company offered $1 million to settle both lawsuits.
Brock’s widow, Renae, filed suit May 19, 1983, alleging that VW officials had discriminated against her husband, spied on him and tried to destroy his reputation.
In a letter he wrote and threw away on the advice of attorneys, Brock said certain individuals ″tried to muscle″ him by threatening that ″sexual harassment charges by two white female employees″ would be pressed against him unless he tried to dissuade other blacks from filing the discrimination suit.
The unsigned letter was retrieved from an attorney’s waste basket by a Pittsburgh Press reporter and authenticated as Brock’s by a handwriting expert.
″Volkswagen acknowledges that litigation brought by the estate of William Brock against the company and certain other individual defendants has been resolved in an out-of-court settlement,″ said Herb Williamson, spokesman for VW in Troy, Mich.
″The parties to the settlement ... have agreed to keep the terms of the settlement confidential,″ he said.
Brock joined VW in July 1977 as the plant’s equal opportunity administrator.
″In absolute contradiction to the assurances of equal opportunity ... from the very outset of Brock’s employment and continuing and increasing until his death, Brock was himself the subject of intentional, purposeful and malicious racial discrimination,″ the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleged that Brock was denied access to personnel records, was told not to investigate discrimination charges, threatened when he said he would investigate, required to tape record telephone conversation and demoted.
The court papers said VW ″undertook a public and private surveillance of Brock, including electronic surveilance and monitoring his work and social activities.″