If Ford Motor Co. awards you a dealership under its dealer development program, does that make you a dealer?
Ford says no. But the association of minority Ford dealers says yes. And it's joining a legal battle to try to make that point.
The association, whose members operate 227 dealerships that sell Ford brands, filed a court brief last month in support of Louisiana entrepreneur Bernie Woods. Ford put Woods in charge of Southpoint Ford in Stonewall, La., in 2001. It fired him last year for undisclosed reasons.
Woods wants to sue Ford under federal and state "dealer day in court" laws. But the company argues that those laws do not apply to Woods because he was never a dealer. Ford says dealerships covered by its development program are "individual legal entities" controlled by a board of directors.
Ford declined comment on the dispute last week.
A federal judge in Shreveport, La., sided with Ford late last year. Woods appealed that ruling to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month. In its court filing, the minority dealers association argues that Woods was a dealer.
A.V. Fleming, the association's executive director, told Automotive News his group has no position on Ford's decision to fire Woods. But he notes that, like Woods, many association members acquired their stores under the dealer development program. The group wants to protect its members, Fleming says. "The agenda is bigger than Mr. Woods," he says.
Sheila Vaden-Williams, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, says her group's executive board will review the case. She says the dispute is disturbing.
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