France defends NASCAR's policy, cautions about suit allegations

Updated: June 14, 2008, 7:09 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France on Saturday defended the governing body's policy on reporting harassment and urged the general public not to believe everything alleged in the lawsuit filed by former Nationwide Series official Mauricia Grant.

"Knowing what I know, not to compromise the investigation, I can tell you not to jump to conclusion about what a lawsuit attempts to say in an attempt to create some monetary reward," France said from the infield conference center at Michigan International Speedway.

"We've been down this road before. Usually the facts are something different in a lawsuit."

The Associated Press reported Saturday that two officials suspended by NASCAR were accused in the $225 million lawsuit of exposing themselves to Grant.

Tim Knox and Bud Moore have been placed on indefinite administrative paid leave.

NASCAR will not reveal the identities of the officials sent home Friday from Kentucky Speedway, but a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to AP on Saturday that Knox and Moore were suspended. The person requested anonymity because NASCAR's investigation is ongoing.

Grant filed the lawsuit Tuesday, alleging racial and sexual harassment. Named in the suit are Nationwide Series director Joe Balash, assistant series director Mike Dolan, two supervisors, NASCAR's senior manager for business relations, the human resources director and 17 officials who were Grant's co-workers.

Obviously, we found some violations in our policy, but I would not jump to conclusions to assume that all of the allegations that were made are accurate.

-- NASCAR chairman Brian France

France acknowledged that two officials had been suspended but would not elaborate on the reason. He did reiterate comments made earlier in the week that none of the allegations were reported to the governing body at the time they happened.

"It didn't happen. It just didn't happen," he said. "She chose to make this about money and about a lawsuit. We'll deal with that."

NASCAR said it didn't learn about the charges until the lawsuit was made public through the media.

"In an actual lawsuit that seeks a lot of money," France said. "That's very disappointing. If any of those claims turns out to be accurate and to have substance, we would have liked to have known about that two years ago so that we could have reacted and done something about that because it is inconsistent with anything from a policy standpoint about how our work environment for our employees should be."

Grant's suit alleged 23 specific incidents of sexual harassment and 34 specific incidents of racial and gender discrimination. She claimed her firing in October 2007 was retaliation for complaining about the way she was treated on the job.

[+] EnlargeBrian France
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBrian France urged the general public not to believe everything alleged in the lawsuit filed by former Nationwide Series official Mauricia Grant.

France said the internal investigation -- launched by NASCAR but administered by an independent company -- would not comment on the reason for Grant's dismissal.

But he said initial findings of the investigation indicated Grant liked her job and enjoyed being an employee and the camaraderie she shared with other officials.

"We have just not found anyone that reported the claim," France said.

In a telephone interview with the AP, France said he was disappointed Grant never told anyone about the allegations.

"We would have investigated this two years ago if she had said anything," he told the AP. "But it just defies the imagination that she would have sat in multiple training sessions, in diversity training, would have gone through performance reviews. … It just defies logic that she had all these opportunities and never made a formal complaint."

In fact, France said the investigation has shown she never had anything negative to say about her job, according to the AP. He added that Grant had an exit interview after her firing and never mentioned any discrimination.

"She had HR on the phone. She was in direct contact and never mentioned a word. It simply defies any logic," France said during the phone interview. "This amount of charges and the severity of them, for her to just casually say, 'I mentioned it to Joe [Balash] and he didn't do anything about it, so I let it go and never said another word.' It doesn't make any sense."

Grant has said she followed the chain of command all the way to Balash, but stopped short of telling human resources because she was reprimanded by that department for a separate incident two weeks after lodging her complaint.

She said she viewed the reprimand, which included a threat of termination, as retaliation for complaining to Balash.

Balash was unavailable for comment following practice Saturday morning for the Nationwide Series race at Kentucky.

France insisted NASCAR has a very open path for reporting complaints, with multiple options.

"I would have sure liked to speak to her two years ago," said France, who has not spoken to Grant since the suit was filed. "And she could have spoken to me at any time. I get e-mails from employees all the time. I'm an easy person in our company to get in touch with."

France began the news conference, which wasn't on his schedule until Saturday morning, by reminding that NASCAR routinely has diversity and sexual harassment seminars and training with human resources.

"Everybody signs that, understands that, abides by that," he said. "To have never ever raised it other than a lawsuit is disappointing to us."

France said the internal investigation, which is focused on the Nationwide Series, was launched immediately. A meeting was held with Sprint Cup officials on Friday to remind them of the racing body's policies.

"They should be familiar and aware how to conduct themselves," he said. "Obviously, we want to make sure once again they know exactly what NASCAR's policy is."

A team of investigators from NASCAR's human resources and legal offices went to Kentucky and reportedly conducted 27 interviews away from the track Thursday and Friday. Knox and Moore were found to have possibly engaged in behavior that violated policy.

The lawsuit contends that at an April 2007 race in Texas, Knox exposed himself in the hospitality suite of their hotel at an officials gathering hosted by Balash.

Moore is accused of coming out of his hotel room in Memphis in October 2006 clad only in a towel. The suit says he asked Grant if she wanted to see what was under the towel, opened it and then ducked behind a trash can.

In another alleged incident, Grant claims Moore asked her how it felt to be black. Her suit claims Grant described being black as "a privilege," and Moore feigned confusion and wondered aloud, "how can she be proud of being black?"

Moore also is accused of making lewd sexual advances toward Grant.

"Obviously, we found some violations in our policy," France said. "I would not jump to conclusions that all allegations that were made over the many months that the plaintiff has made were accurate."

David Newton covers Sprint Cup racing for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

David Newton | email

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