A former supply chain boss at a Vernon manufacturer of electric vehicles is suing her onetime workplace, alleging she was fired in 2018 in retaliation for complaining about discrimination and other wrongdoing at the company.
Plaintiff Shawn VanAmburg says in her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Wednesday that the owner of Independent Electrical Vehicles, Shi Hai, once told her to fire all her white male employees and replace them with Chinese women.
VanAmburg allegations include wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation and racial discrimination. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
VanAmburg was hired at the Soto Street business in November 2017 and had extensive automotive experience, the suit states. She says she met with Hai for the first time in February 2018 and extended her hand to shake his.
However, Hai refused to shake the Rancho Palos Verdes woman's hand, saying instead, "I thought you were going to be a man," the suit states.
"Mr. Hai believed plaintiff was a male when he hired her due to her gender-neutral first name," the suit states.
VanAmburg discovered what she believed were safety violations at the company, but was rebuffed when she reported them to management in January 2018, the suit states. She again complained in April and June of that year, but still no corrective actions were taken, according to the suit, which alleges the failure to fix the problems resulted in an employee being hurt on the job and needing 15 stitches in his left hand.
Hai's alleged order to replace her white male staff members with Chinese women occurred in July 2018, the suit states.
"Chinese women like to shop and are better negotiators," Hai told VanAmburg, according to a letter filed on her behalf with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing that is attached to the suit.
Despite VanAmburg's "shock and belief" at the alleged Hai directive, the plaintiff gave him the benefit of the doubt and asked if he meant what he said, the suit states.
"Without hesitation, Mr. Hai responded with an unequivocal, "Yes," the suit states.
VanAmburg reported the Hai order to human resources, but a department supervisor told her Hai "does not mean what he says" and that the plaintiff "should not worry about him," the suit alleges.
The suit alleges that in a discussion between company supervisors Miles Bernal and Esther "Star" Kim, Kim stated VanAmburg was fired because "the (expletive) knew too much."