Montrelle Reese said he “never felt more alone in my life” than he did during the two years he worked as a sales representative for the Westchester office of ThyssenKrupp Elevator.
It wasn’t just the frequent use of the n-word by his white supervisors and co-workers, the disparaging references to black neighborhoods that comprised Reese’s sales turf or even the blackface routine at a company meeting, he said. It was the fact that a racially hostile work environment more prevalent in the 1960s was “part of the culture” at a German conglomerate that now wants to bring its North American regional headquarters to Chicago, Reese said.
Reese, who is African-American, worked at ThyssenKrupp Elevator from November 2007 until January 2010, before resigning because he said he could no longer tolerate the hostility.
On Monday, he talked to the Chicago Sun-Times about the allegations of abuse that prompted the Illinois Department of Human Rights to find “substantial evidence of discrimination” against the company that Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly welcomed to Chicago last week.
“I never felt more alone in my life. I was in a depressed state. I would sit in my car for 20 to 30 minutes prior to entering the building, because I couldn’t handle being there,” said Reese, 33.
“These were the people directly responsible for my success in the company. I had to tolerate it. But after that blackface incident, I couldn’t take it anymore. I resigned in one of the toughest job markets in my lifetime, but I didn’t care. It was a regional conference. Management on every level was there. And that was funny to them.”
He added, “It wasn’t behind closed doors. It was out in the open. It was a collective atmosphere created by everyone. Without question, it was tolerated. There was no secret what was going on, because everybody participated.”
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