NASCAR was hit with a $500 million lawsuit accusing the auto racing body of racial discrimination for preventing black-owned teams and drivers from competing. Terrance Alton Cox III and his company Diversity Motorsports allege that NASCAR has intentionally blocked him and his company from participating in NASCAR and refused to work with them on proposed diversity initiatives. Diversity Motorsports was established to encourage and help promote minority and female drivers to participate in motorsports. NASCAR claims that the lawsuit is frivolous and will defend the suit as well as retaliate and assert their own claims against Mr. Cox for defamatory actions.
This is not NASCAR’s first encounter with allegations of discrimination and harassment. In 2008, 32-year-old Grant, who is a black female, worked as a technical inspector responsible for certifying cars in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series. In the lawsuit, she alleged she was referred to as “Nappy Headed Mo” and “Queen Sheba” by co-workers, was often told she worked on “colored people time” and was frightened by one official who routinely made references to the Ku Klux Klan. But, it doesn’t stop there. Grant faced several remarks from lateral co-workers all the way up to supervisors and officials. The lawsuit details a series of those alleged incidents:
- Grant was forced to work outside more often than the white male officials because her supervisors believed she couldn’t sunburn because she was black.
- While riding in the backseat of her car pool at Talladega Superspeedway, co-workers told her to duck as they passed race fans. “I don’t want to start a riot when these fans see a black woman in my car,” she claims one official said.
- When packing up a dark garage at Texas Motor Speedway an official told Grant: “Keep smiling and pop your eyes out ’cause we can’t see you.”
- When she ignored advances from co-workers, Grant was accused of being gay. She also claimed co-workers questioned the sexual orientation of two other female officials.
- A supervisor once told her, “Does your workout include an urban obstacle course with a flat-screen TV on your back?”
Grant’s lawsuit also mentions other incidents of discriminatory firings. Official Heather Gambino was fired in 2006 for complaining about a sexually hostile work environment. The suit also claims former official Dean Duckett, who is black, was reprimanded and ultimately fired for using “aggressive language toward a white co-worker.” As a result, the Grant suit was settled during a December 3rd mediation held in New York. Neither side admitted liability or wrongdoing, according to NASCAR.
NASCAR claims that they have made several efforts to promote diversity and have zero tolerance for discrimination. Specifically, last fall, NASCAR joined an initiative called the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). The goal of RISE is to promote diversity, inclusion and equality within and outside of sports. Additionally, NASCAR founded Drive for Diversity, a program that aims to give opportunity and support to minority and female drivers. NASCAR also decided to ban the confederate flag at the races as they wanted to create a “welcoming atmosphere.”
Despite NASCAR’s attempts to diversify, this latest lawsuit in addition to NASCAR’s endorsement of Presidential candidate Donald Trump has many questioning NASCAR’s true intentions. As stated by a major sponsor of NASCAR Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, “public endorsement of a man who has called Mexicans “rapists,” kicked black students out of his rallies for no apparent reason, and hesitated to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, directly contradicts NASCAR’s recent push for more diversity and inclusion.” NASCAR claims that the endorsement was a private opinion and expression of Brian France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR and not the endorsement of NASCAR as a whole. However, as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo put it, “France doesn’t just run NASCAR, his family is synonymous with the sport since his grandfather Bill Sr. helped found it in 1948.”
The outcome of this lawsuit is yet to be seen and hard to predict. Cox will have to establish prima facie case that NASCAR did not hire him because of his race. At that point NASCAR merely needs to offer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for their actions toward Cox. If anything it will most likely result in a settlement and no real change to the culture, similar to that of the Grant case.