France denies that former official complained to supervisors

CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France denied Wednesday that a former official complained to her supervisors about racial and sexual discrimination, claims she alleged led to her eventual firing.

Mauricia Grant filed a $225 million suit against NASCAR on Tuesday, alleging racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliatory termination. Grant, who is black, worked as a technical inspector for NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series.

France said Wednesday the detailed filing was the first NASCAR learned of her claims.

"The disappointing thing is she makes a lot of claims, none of them reported," said France. "The fact that it went on as she stated, for many months, but never bothered to tell anyone at management what was going on -- which is what our policy says -- is very disappointing.

"We would have liked, if those type things were in fact going on, we would have loved to have done an investigation and a review of such an allegation," France said.

France said NASCAR will review Grant's claims, which included 23 specific incidents of alleged sexual harassment and 34 specific incidents of alleged racial and gender discrimination she says began when she was hired in January 2005 through her October 2007 firing.

NASCAR will not disclose why Grant was fired late in the 2007 season.

In her suit, she 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 denied France's claim that she never complained about her treatment, saying she followed the chain of command but stopped short of taking it to human resources when series director Joe Balash failed to address her concerns.

Grant claims two weeks after she complained to Balash, she received a call from the human resources director reprimanding her for her behavior.

"I expected Joe Balash to address and solve these problems. I never expected I would have to take it higher than that," she said. "In my three seasons there, that was the first time I complained, and then two weeks later -- the shock of getting a call from HR -- it was so obvious retaliation.

"Was I supposed to call HR back to talk about the stuff I had to talk about?" she said.

NASCAR's investigation is expected to include Grant's human resources file and interviews with everyone identified in the lawsuit.

That includes Mike Wilford, a former NASCAR official who's named in the suit and has since left NASCAR.

Wilford told The Associated Press he was present for many of the incidents Grant lists in her suit, said she was a willing participant in much of the behavior and had "twisted" the versions to her benefit.

"Graphic and lewd jokes? She participated in them. She laughed, she would never say it was inappropriate," Wilford said. "She asked to be called the only two names she was ever called. She called herself Mo Money all the time."

One of the officials identified in the suit, Wilford said Grant never once complained about how she was treated in time the two spent together away from the track.

He's named in Grant's suit for an incident in March 2006 at Atlanta Motor Speedway when Wilford allegedly showed Grant some loose diamonds and rubies and offered them to Grant if she'd be his mistress.

"That's just one the many incidents she's twisted into her favor in the suit," Wilford said. "Yes, I made the joke, but it was a joke because Mo used to go around telling everyone she wanted to marry a rich man and be a kept woman, and that was all she was after. She told everyone that, and now she's twisting behavior she both initiated in and participated in."

Grant denied Wilford's version of the events.

"He was persistent about asking if I would be his mistress. When he pulled the diamonds and rubies out, he wanted me to know he had the financial capability to take care of me," Grant told AP. "I am guessing he came forward because he was embarrassed that his wife would find out he was hitting on me."

Of the 17 officials named in Grant's suit, two no longer are with NASCAR.

Wilford, who is Hispanic and like Grant participated in NASCAR's diversity efforts, said he resigned from his job as a technical inspector on amicable terms during the 2006 season to pursue an opportunity in Arizona in commercial construction. Grant claims Wilford was fired.

"He was taunted all the time about being a Mexican official," she said.

David Duke, another official named in the suit, was fired within the past six weeks but NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said his termination was not related to Grant's claims.

Also identified in Grant's suit are Balash, assistant series director Mike Dolan, two supervisors, NASCAR's senior manager for business relations and the human resources director.

Grant's lawyer, Benedict P. Morelli of Morelli Ratner PC, said the firm has prepared her for any backlash.

"She understands the normal response is to say, 'The person is crazy, a bad worker, crazy and lazy and fired for cause. She was always bad and we don't discriminate, we never did discriminate,'" Morelli said. "We fully expect them to find out she once threw sand in the sandbox in an attempt to smear her."

On Wednesday, France did not address the validity of Grant's claims. But he insisted NASCAR first heard of her complaints when the suit was filed.

He made that point again later in an e-mail sent to all NASCAR employees, emphasizing the organization's zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind.

"Yesterday's suit was the first we learned of the allegations. I urge everyone to follow our procedures that are in place as outlined in our Employee Manual. Violations of our policy must be reported and I assure you they will be acted upon," France wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by the AP. "I have often said that no other issue is more important than establishing greater diversity in our industry. Doing so will make everything about the sport better. This continues to be our mission and nothing will slow our efforts in this area."