Factory worker sues Ford for 'vile' harassment at Dearborn Truck Plant

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Editor’s note: This story includes disturbing descriptions of sexual harassment allegations.

Andrea Busha of Canton isn't the first in her family to work at Ford Motor Co. but, unlike the generations before her, hopes of retiring from the iconic automaker have been ruined.

She filed a lawsuit against Ford for sexual harassment on June 12, 2019, for retaliation and a hostile work environment at the Dearborn Assembly Plant that builds the bestselling F-150 pickup.

She spent eight years happily working on the assembly line until a team leader targeted her with constant, almost daily, "sexual assaults and crude and disgusting statements and propositions," according to documents filed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Busha is receiving intensive therapy for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now 38, the mother of three said she never wanted to sue Ford. She offered to work any shift at any Ford factory not near a team leader whom she and witnesses said groped and abused her between October 2016 and April 2017 and led to the loss of her job, Busha told the Free Press.

A judge ruled on May 26 the case would go to a jury. A hearing on Tuesday has been scheduled to set the trial date. It is expected to begin this fall.

Ford challenged the merit of the case, and filed a request with the Michigan Court of Appeals on June 15 to have the case tossed, saying the company promptly addressed the harassment claim and thus isn't liable.

Andrea Busha, seen here in August 2019, is suing Ford Motor Co. after working years at the Dearborn Truck Plant. The UAW member alleged in the lawsuit that she sustained a pattern of harassment that included a team leader groping her while she worked on the assembly line and preventing her from using the bathroom to punish her, according to witnesses.

But the lawsuit claims the company refused to stop unwelcome sexual communication and conduct based on her gender that created an intimidating, offensive work environment. Busha has "suffered bodily injury, depression, emotional and physical distress, mental and physical anguish, loss of reputation, humiliation and embarrassment," the lawsuit says.

Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager, told the Free Press on Thursday that the automaker "does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination."

Ford takes claims "very seriously" and investigates them thoroughly, she said. 

"Upon receiving the complaint, Ford launched an investigation, immediately suspended the accused employee and discharged him at the conclusion of the investigation. The UAW subsequently filed a grievance regarding this individual’s termination, and as a result of the grievance process, the individual returned to work, was demoted and moved to a different location," Felker said. "Ms. Busha admits that she never saw him again even after the reinstatement. ... Ms. Busha repeatedly refused Ford’s offers to return her to work in a position or shift that was consistent with her seniority and the terms of the UAW-Ford collective bargaining agreement."

A key point of disagreement is whether Ford offered a position away from the team leader accused of harassment, since his job allows him to drive freely inside the Ford plant. Busha said her doctor and her union reps advised her against returning to work if she couldn't be assured that the team leader would not be there.

'Huge concern' 

The lawsuit describes with supporting witness affidavits this:

In October 2016, team leader Melvin Barrow learned that Busha was about to be divorced, "which, to Barrow, meant it was open season on Plaintiff for the purpose of satisfying his sexual desires," the lawsuit said.

Barrow, reached by the Free Press on Thursday, said he wanted to respectfully decline comment.

He was initially named as a defendant but later dropped because he was "holding up the case" by "evading" the process, said Busha's lawyer Jim Fett.

The lawsuit said harassment included, but was not limited to: 

  • Grabbing Busha's buttocks, pressing his penis firmly against her buttocks, spanking her buttocks with a metal scuff plate and grabbing her arm and attempting to make Busha feel his penis 
  • Telling Busha how soft she is and that she should let him have her
  • Retaliating against her for rejecting his crude and vulgar behavior by refusing to let her leave the line to go to the restroom, causing a kidney infection, inciting co-workers against her, manipulating management to assign Busha to undesirable work assignments, in violation of the union contract and safety regulations
  • Falsely claiming that Busha sent him naked pictures when confronted by the union

Busha reported the harassment orally to the union on March 29, 2017, and later to Ford labor relations on April 3, 2017, in writing and orally, and on April 6, 2017, again in writing, according to the lawsuit.

First, Ford suspended Busha for approximately seven weeks without pay to do an investigation and then suggested she was "welcoming and encouraging" the behavior, according to the lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, Barrow was terminated on May 8, 2017, yet Ford agreed on June 22, 2017, to reinstate him, Fett said. Unbeknownst to Busha, Ford agreed to reinstate Barrow just six weeks after his termination. However, the reinstatement would not be effective until Jan. 1, 2018, Busha's lawyer pointed out.

Andrea Busha, with her husband Kenny and son Levi, are seen here in 2019 at an apple orchard in Plymouth. Andrea Busha is the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Ford retirees. She hoped to retire one day but left the company and filed a sex harassment lawsuit after she felt she had exhausted all attempts to return to the Dearborn Truck Plant.

After what is described in the lawsuit as a cursory internal investigation, Busha was reinstated to a different area of the Dearborn Truck Plant in July 2017. She was pleased to return to the factory. However, she had to be relocated twice because of retaliation by Barrow's co-workers, the lawsuit said. 

In December 2017, Busha attempted to move to the Trim Department because lifting catalytic converters were too heavy and she had lifting restrictions due to her pregnancy, the lawsuit says.

But then Ford refused to allow Busha to join that department because that would mean Barrow would have to be reassigned, the lawsuit said. Rather than re-assign Barrow, Ford laid off Busha. She gave birth on July 2, 2018 and in August wrote to the union and Ford management expressing "huge concern" for workplace safety upon her return to work in September. Ford never responded, Busha said.

'She would be used as bait'

Outlining examples of vindictive behavior, the lawsuit mentions that Barrow targeted a supportive co-worker of Busha by letting the air out of car tires, breaking into a locker, stealing tools, stealing a phone and harassing on social media. Workers filed reports with Ford employee relations, according to the lawsuit.

Ford informed Busha through her union that "she would be used as bait to catch Barrow in another inevitable act of harassment when she returned; the harassment would then be used to justify" his termination, the lawsuit says.

A doctor determined the scenario caused a PTSD disability for Busha, according to court documents. Ford ordered Busha back to work in May 2019 against her doctor's orders, so she was faced with not working or working in a setting that may include contact with Barrow.

Andrea Busha, seen here with her great-grandfather Joe Coe in 1990. He is a retired Ford engineer.

Technically, she was fired, Busha said.

"I came back for one day and my psychiatrist put me on medical leave for PTSD and emotionally mentally not being able to work ... with Melvin. After being on that medical, they determined that it was a personal issue and I had to return to work with him or be terminated," she told the Free Press on Thursday. "It has been awful. Something I wish never happened."

"Ford provided a great life for my grandparents and my parents," Busha said. "I fully intended to retire from Ford. Up until this, I thought probably my son would work there someday."

She has worked at Dearborn Truck since 2008 and fought to be reinstated, knowing she has experience doing everything from attaching the catalytic converter and air bags to placing trim pieces and finishing the truck interiors with scuff plates that hide the wires.

Doctor's orders violated

"This all started in 2016, when I filed a complaint with labor relations and they told me I was going to be indefinitely suspended without pay. When they completed their investigation, they called me to come back and said they were sorry it happened and they would pay me for time off and he ... would be terminated and I would not have to work anywhere where he worked again. About a year later, I was pregnant and putting in catalytic converters, which are pretty heavy. My doctor wanted me to not lift something as heavy. So in January 2018, I was re-assigned to the trim department. The day I was supposed to start there, Ford said I could no longer do that and work wasn't available. They laid me off on medical leave. I found out it was Melvin's first day returning and he was in the department I was supposed to go to."

Union officials from the UAW tried to intervene, saying her safety couldn't be assured, and their efforts failed, Busha said. The union told her to go home, she said.

"I always believed I would be able to work and work safely," Busha said. "They made it clear to me that wasn't an option, to work there and be safe. So I was left with no choice but to file a lawsuit. They insisted I had to work with this man or I couldn't work there."

Forcing her to touch him

The unwanted physical contact Busha describes did not go unnoticed by coworkers. 

Worker Paul Rogers confirmed these claims as a witness in an affidavit. 

"On numerous occasions I saw her team leader Melvin Barrow approach her work station and touch her ... and stand so close as if he was rubbing his penis against her," said the Rogers affidavit.

He noted that he, too, observed that Busha was not allowed to use the restroom if her supervisor wasn't happy. In one incident, she kept pressing the light for permission and the supervisor kept turning it off so she had to wait nearly three hours until her lunch break. She ended up with a kidney infection, the lawsuit said.

Union representative Tom Mitchell had to talk to Barrow several times about ignoring Busha's call light, according to the court filing.

"In March of 2017, Andrea Busha came to me ... She told me Melvin Barrow would send her text messages asking her for naked pictures and asking her to be part of a threesome. If Melvin did not like how she responded to these messages, he would harass her at work and not let her use the bathroom," Mitchell said in the affidavit.

As the situation appeared to unravel, Busha wrote plant manager Brad Huff and HR manager Melanie Stinson in April 2017: 

"I have been sexually assaulted in plain view at my place of employment numerous times by a person who has professional power over me. I have also been sexually harassed and groped. He has used intimidation and work conditions to allow himself to continue this behavior and make sure I was too fearful to stop him. I have had my character attacked by him, my rights as a Ford employee, as well as a UAW member, have been violated. My ability to work with reasonable conditions has been denied to me. ... Labor relations concluding that me not being brave enough to fight him, not trusting in management enough to protect me, trying to not cause more tension and anger from him, means he is warranted in treating me this way, I must deserve it, and, in fact, went as far to suggest I encouraged it. And right now, at this very moment, I am indefinitely suspended without pay."

Lisa Vanover, a Ford employee for more than two decades, worked on the chassis line with Busha and said in her affidavit that Barrow grabbed Busha's breast and slapped her on the bottom when she was bent over working on trucks. 

Salaried Supervisor Rebecca Parnell suggested Busha get a doctor's note requiring her to use the bathroom rather than report the situation to Ford management for resolution, the lawsuit said.

"When Andrea was scheduled to return from maternity leave in September of 2018, I was concerned for her safety if she was going to have to interact with Melvin at work," said Mitchell, the union representative. "At that time, Melvin ... was responsible for delivering parts throughout the plant. This meant that just about any position Andrea would fill could mean she would have contact with Melvin."

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Meanwhile, the lawsuit points out that factory discussion in Dearborn mentioned the need to avoid a Chicago situation, presumably a reference to the sex harassment problems that have plagued the Ford plant there. It has resulted in federal intervention and a public apology from former CEO Jim Hackett, after the New York Times did a big magazine piece on the unresolved problems in December 2017.

'Nuclear war with Ford'

All of this makes Ford's approach to this case puzzling, said Busha's attorney.

"We tried to mediate even before we filed the lawsuit," Fett told the Free Press on Wednesday. "Andrea's family goes way back with Ford. I go back with Ford, too. My dad worked at Ford for 30 years. We weren’t looking forward to nuclear war with Ford, but unfortunately that’s what it has become."

Back in the early 2000s, Fett brought a class action against Ford on behalf of clients who said the company discriminated against older white male employees. Ford settled for $10.6 million.

Lawyer Jim Fett of Pinckney, seen here in July 2014, is representing Andrea Busha in her sexual harassment case involving the Dearborn Truck Plant that builds Ford F-150 trucks. He previously settled a $10.6 million case on behalf of white male Ford workers who claimed age discrimination.

"Ford has a history of contesting all these employment lawsuits until the cows come home," Fett said. "Why did they let that Chicago Assembly mess develop as it did? You could've wrapped up those problems pretty quick."

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These days, Busha feels humiliated and embarrassed and sad about everything.

"The way I've been treated? I'm in therapy, I see a psychiatrist," she said. "Never did we think this is how people would be treated and Ford would make it worse instead of just offering to correct the situation."

Andrea Busha with her grandfather Herbert Covert, a retired Ford tool and die maker, at a church in Canton in 1997.

Busha's mom was a Ford administrator. Busha's grandmother was an hourly supervisor of maintenance. Busha's grandfather was a tool and die maker. One of Busha's great-grandfathers was an hourly laborer, the other an engineer. 

"I have a lot of fear and anxiety because of this situation," Busha told the Free Press on Wednesday. "I had always planned to retire from Ford just like the three generations of my family before me. This has been extremely devastating and depressing to have to go through not only losing your job but feeling unsafe and having experienced what I had while working at Ford Motor Company."

Her husband, who works in information technology for the Department of Defense, offers support to a wife who has trouble sleeping while her case navigates the court system, she said.


The harassment Busha has endured is "so vulgar, just vile," Fett said. "It's the worst I've ever seen."

Jim Hackett, former CEO of Ford Motor Co., apologized to employees in December 2017  for repeated incidents of sexual harassment at two Chicago factories and warned all employees that "we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this."

The severity and frequency of actions make this Ford lawsuit unusual, Fett said. "The harassment in this case is the most disgusting that I have seen in 35 years of practice. It is ironic that it happened at a company that prides itself on its zero-tolerance sex harassment policy."

Busha is suing for economic damages and noneconomic damages for trauma, including anxiety and depression. Her lawyer broke it down this way:

"Her wage would be $31.12 an hour. She also worked significant overtime and received profit sharing and bonuses depending on company profits. Her annualized wages are $64,729, not including overtime, profit sharing or bonuses. Assuming benefits are worth $20,000.00, a conservative estimate of Andrea’s annual compensation is about $85,000.00. Therefore, economic damages since June 2019 are past $133,333.33. Assuming five years of front pay while Andrea works lower paying jobs and re-trains (“learns to code”), the future damages are $525,000.000. Total economic damages are therefore $558,133.33."

A jury can compensate a victim of sex harassment for outrage they feel toward the company, Fett said. "That is usually the largest element of damages, possibly into several million dollars."

Ford was sued in 2019 for race and sex harassment at the Dearborn Truck Plant involving an employee who faced demands for sex and photos of her naked. That case is pending in state court.

Contact Phoebe Wall or call/text 313-618-1034.Follow her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.