Two NASCAR officials suspended after harassment allegations

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two officials named in a $225 million racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit against NASCAR have been placed on administrative leave for violating company policy, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials, who were not immediately identified, were sent home from Kentucky Speedway on Friday evening, a person familiar with the NASCAR investigation told the AP. The person requested anonymity because NASCAR's investigation is ongoing.

Mauricia Grant filed her suit Tuesday, alleging 23 specific incidents of sexual harassment and 34 specific incidents of racial and gender discrimination during her time as a technical inspector for NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series.

Grant, who is black, claims her October 2007 firing was retaliation for complaining about the way she was treated on the job from her hiring in January 2005.

NASCAR chairman Brian France has not addressed the validity of Grant's claims, but said the former official never made a formal complaint of followed NASCAR policy in reporting harassment.

NASCAR sent a team of investigators from its human resources and legal offices to Kentucky this weekend to interview those named in the suit. Of 27 interviews conducted away from the track Thursday and Friday, two officials were found to have engaged in behavior that violated NASCAR policy.

Their leave is indefinite, but paid.

"We take this issue very seriously, and we're going to always do everything we can to maintain a professional work place," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said.

In addition, investigators failed to uncover a single instance where Grant complained to her supervisors or other NASCAR employees about the way she was treated, and NASCAR plans to continue defending the organization against the lawsuit, the person familiar with the investigation told AP.

Grant has said she followed the chain of command all the way to Nationwide Series director Joe 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.

Named in the suit are 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.

The two employees placed on leave Friday were among those 17 officials. Balash, Dolan and the two supervisors remained on site in Kentucky for Saturday night's Nationwide Series race.

Grant's lawyer, Benedict P. Morelli of Morelli Ratner PC, called NASCAR's action "unbelievable and astonishing" but said it was too little too late for his client.

"It seems to me that maybe they should close the barn door before the horse runs out, instead of after the horse runs out," Morelli told AP. "This is what you do when you are in a defensive posture. They should have known this was going on."

In her suit, Grant claims 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.

In addition, Grant said she was subjected to sexual advances from male co-workers, two of whom allegedly exposed themselves to her, and graphic and lewd jokes. She says she has e-mails and text messages to support her claims.

One of the officials named in the suit told AP earlier this week that Grant never once complained about how she was treated in time the two spent together away from the track. Mike Wilford also said she was a willing participant in graphic and lewd jokes and has "twisted" events to benefit her suit.

Morelli said NASCAR's action Friday, coupled with Wilford's admission that questionable behavior existed, bolsters Grant's claims.

"All this does is prove that she was telling the truth," Morelli said. "It's proof positive that it was going on, and it's too little too late."

Wilford, who is Hispanic, is one of two officials named in the suit who no longer works for NASCAR. He said he left the company willingly to pursue another career in Arizona. Grant claims he was fired.

A second official, David Duke, was fired roughly six weeks ago. Duke is listed numerous times in the suit, and allegedly sent Grant graphic text messages, but NASCAR said his termination was unrelated to Grant's claims.