Director at Alabama Hyundai plant claims, wrongful termination

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) – A former longtime employee at Hyundai’s Alabama vehicle manufacturing plant has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, claiming she was discriminated against based on her race, sex and retaliation.

Yvette Gilkey-Shuford joined Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in 2003 as an assistant manager and became HMMA’s director of administration in 2018. It was around that time that Gilkey-Shuford claims in her complaint that she began experiencing discrimination.

Gilkey-Shuford states that she was the only African American and the only female on the nine-member executive team at the HMMA plant, despite the company’s laborforce being more than 70% Black and 30% female.

Gilkey-Shuford states that she was paid less than her five peer department directors, whom she states are all White males. Despite a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, Gilkey-Shuford states she was paid nearly $15,000 less than the only other director with an advanced degree.

Additionally, Gilkey-Shuford claims that after taking on the director of administration role, the position’s responsibilities were changed, meaning she would not oversee HMMA’s human resources or team relations departments.

Gilkey-Shuford also claims she was denied opportunities to participate in “key internal management committees” such as those dealing with long-term planning, policies and procedures or compensation and benefits.

Gilkey-Shuford says she was wrongfully fired in June after a draft memorandum from three employees, outlining their goals, was sent to a member of the sales management team for HMMA’s parent company, Hyundai Motors North America, headquarted in California.

The employees’ draft memorandum, according to Gilkey-Shuford, included outreach activities like recognizing Pride Month, management-level training sessions regarding LGBT rights, and regarding some changes in company policies name changes for transgender employees who were transitioning.

The draft memo also concerns raised that, while HMMA required transgender employees to legally change their names, to alter their identities on company insignia and their caller-ID on company phones, Korean-born employees were permitted to adopt Americanized names on company identifications without having to go through the same process.

Gilkey-Shuford said she had nothing to do with the memo, stating that the employees sought her advice and she urged them to make sure the document did not “encroach on company HR policies.”

According to the EEOC complaint, Gilkey-Shuford was informed that the plant decided to “restructure,” and her job was to be eliminated with her termination. Gilkey-Shuford states the “restructure” was limited exclusively to her role as the director of administration.

WSFA 12 News reached out to HMMA for comment and was informed that the company cannot comment on “personnel matters or pending litigation.”

“Hyundai’s poor record of promoting women and Blacks to top positions is about to come under close scrutiny in and outside Alabama,” said attorney Artur Davis, who is representing Gilkey-Shuford in her complaint. “Yvette Shuford will have a very interesting story to tell about a company that is happy to have Blacks and women build cars but not to lead or have power.”

It’s unclear when or what decision will be made by the EEOC in this complaint.

HMMA builds hundreds of thousands of Hyundai vehicles annually at its sprawling plant in Montgomery, Alabama. It directly employs more than 3,000 people, with thousands more indirectly through its suppliers.

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