Auto dealer employees win $19 million in discrimination lawsuit

Auto dealer employees win $19 million in discrimination lawsuit

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Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 25 at 11:05 AM

GLADSTONE, Ore. - A federal court jury awarded four Portland men $19 million for the discrimination they suffered while working at a Gladstone auto dealer in 2005.

The four men, Jahaeel Hardy, Kent Paul, Marcus Arnold and Carlos Banfield worked at the Thomason Toyota dealership in Gladstone.

Hardy said he was pleased with the verdict.

"It was a hostile environment," he said. "It was hard to go through, just happy we made it through," Hardy said.

Asbury Automotive bought the dealership from Scott Thomason but kept the name in place.

The alleged discrimination took place in of 2005.

The complaint filed with the suit claimed Asbury subjected the Plaintiffs to racially discriminatory treatment.

The complaint charges the company with creating and maintaining a hostile work environment and failing to take immediate action to end it.

"We endured a very hostile work environment," said Carlos Barfield. "We made reports, but it was kinda swept under the carpet," he said.

The suit also alleged Asbury allowed "racial discrimination in assignments, customer referrals or credit for sales, "as well as " retaliating against Plaintiffs for opposing racial discrimination."< /p>

A "file motion to add to Plaintiffs Witness List" gives some insight to the specific allegations.

Barfield, an African American, wrote in an affidavit that "An employee yelled at me and Jahaeel 'Hey you two n------," ... get your black a-- faces over here." When I complained I was told, "the next time this happens just punch the guy in the face." The employee was immediately terminated."

Barfield also described being passed over for promotion and pay raises even though he'd been with the company longer or sold more cars than the person getting the promotion or raise.

Many of the complaints were aimed at Jack Brennen, the General Manager of Thomason Toyota of Gladstone.

In the "file motion to add to plaintiffs witness list" several witnesses are quoted as prepared to testify that Brennen used the term "redneck" despite objections to the term.

Barfield, according to the document, was prepared to testify "r egarding Mr. Brennens hostile comments including I will put a bullet in anyone's head who complains."

Brennan defended himself, according to the document.

"He will testify he never used the term redneck from Georgia again after it was made aware to him that the African American employees found the term to be racially offensive. Mr. Brennen will testify he violated no policies and procedures in place prohibiting unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation and he obeyed all those policies and procedures."

The jury awarded $1.9 million to Hardy and Paul for emotional distress and $2.75 million in punitive damages.

The jury awarded $2.1 million Arnold and Barfield for emotional distress and another $2.75 million in punitive damages.

Plaintiff's attorney Aaron Baker said the jury sent Asbury a clear message "they need to treat everybody in our community the same."

Steve Rickles, representing Asbury Automotive, did not return calls requesting comment on the verdict.