Woman claims discrimination, ‘frat boy’ culture at Gentex

Ottawa County
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former engineer is suing Gentex, arguing she was fired because she brought up concerns about a sexist environment in the Zeeland automotive firm.

The federal suit filed by Elizabeth Helminski in April names the defendants as Gentex Corp. and her supervisor Brian Brackenberry. It alleges gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal and state civil rights laws.

The suit claims that as early as her orientation in January 2019, Brackenberry told Helminski that Gentex’s mostly-male leaders were “like fraternity brothers.” At a different meeting months later, he affirmed there was a “frat boy” culture there.

Helminski said Brackenberry also repeatedly suggested that she pretend to be confused about work concepts in front of co-workers so they could explain things to her.

“(Essentially, Defendant Brackenberry man-splained to Plaintiff how to (sic) she could summon man-splaining in front of an audience,)” the suit reads in part.

Helminski said she was not going to do that. At one meeting, the suit says, Brackenberry suggested she act “more humble.”

On other occasions, Helminski said co-workers refused to be alone in a room with her because she is a woman or made fun of her.

Eventually, after Helminski brought up her concerns with Brackenberry, he told her to set up a meeting with the vice president of diversity at the company. She did, but before that meeting could happen, she was fired in late September 2019.

Helminski is asking the court to award her lost pay and benefits, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, though it does not list a specific dollar amount.

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