A group of male and female former employees has charged a Japanese-owned injection molder with sexual and racial discrimination — allegations the company denies.
The four men and two women name Iris USA President Masao Watanabe and shipping supervisor Ed Province in complaints filed Aug. 8 with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The alleged incidents occurred between January 1995 and July 1997, according to the complaints.
Meanwhile, some of those making the allegations have started their own injection molding company, Cobree International, in nearby Gurnee, Ill.
The men claim they faced sexually degrading comments and sexual advances from their male boss, Watanabe. The women alleged they endured verbal abuse and requests to touch them from Province. They also charged that they were passed over for promotions because they were female and non-Japanese. All allege Japanese employees received preferential treatment at Iris.
The company ``vehemently denies'' those allegations, according to Iris spokesman Jay Johnson.
``The company anticipates that when this matter has been completely reviewed by the appropriate courts, Iris USA Inc. will be found to have followed the law in all regards and the allegations will be found to be unsubstantiated,'' Johnson said in a statement.
Iris, which is owned by Ohyama Inc. of Sendai, Japan, started production of household products at its Pleasant Prairie, Wis., facility in December. The company also operates a plant in Stockton, Calif. Iris USA had between $25 million and $30 million in sales in 1996, a figure that will go substantially higher for 1997 with the addition of the Pleasant Prairie plant, Johnson said.
Iris Ohyama pioneered direct distribution of plastics housewares to retailers in Japan during the early 1980s, basing its system on U.S. models, according to a 1991 story in the Japan Economic Journal.
Iris Ohyama also developed the first clear, stackable polypropylene storage bin for Japanese markets in 1989. The company exported the idea — along with manufacturing facilities — to the United States starting in 1995, the Nikkei Weekly of Japan reported last year.
The former employees who filed complaints, including their titles at Iris, are: William Fleener, vice president, sales and marketing; Deborah Causey, assistant lead; Jim Coretti, national accounts manager; Jane Hill, customer service manager; Rick Lonsway, national accounts manager; and Greg Perry, national accounts manager.
All six gave Cobree International's phone number on the complaints. Also at Cobree are former Iris USA President Yutaka Hiramatsu and former human resources manager Mark Hodel, who are listed as witnesses in several of the complaints.
Fleener, a vice president at Cobree, declined to comment on the complaints or the new company. Fleener referred to an article in the Aug. 11 issue of HFN, a housewares magazine, which reported Cobree ``will supply injection molded plastic products to retailers.'' Cobree also hosted a hospitality suite during the recent National Hardware Show in Chicago to introduce the new firm to potential customers.