An African-American car salesman who claims he was subjected to his manager’s racially derogative remarks and then wrongfully fired for complaining can pursue a discrimination and retaliation suit against a Nashville dealership, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen said John Pendleton, who worked at Bob Frensley Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram Inc. from Feb. 26, 2014, to April 26, 2014, presented enough evidence to go to trial on all his claims against the dealership and former new-car manager Thomas Mowell.
The suit alleges that Mowell made “racially inappropriate comments every day” and that Pendleton felt “it was sickening just having to work there or be around” Mowell. The suit also claims that Pendleton complained to Mowell and another Bob Frensley manager to no avail and that neither of them informed the dealership’s owner.
Pendleton said he was fired after an argument with two white salesmen, who, to his mind, were trying to take away a sale from him, according to the decision. One of the salesmen allegedly punched Pendleton, according to the decision. The white salesmen were not fired nor suspended, although the alleged assailant received an “employee warning.”
The dealership and Mowell deny all the allegations and said Pendleton wasn’t fired but was “administratively discharged” for failing to come to work for three days after the confrontation, according to the decision. The dealership’s lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mowell’s lawyer, Daniel Olivas of Nashville, declined to comment.
Mowell was fired by the dealership in December 2014, Pendleton’s lawyer, Douglas Janney III of Nashville, told Automotive News.
According to the decision, a second African-American salesman had been similarly terminated by the dealership after a separate incident with one of the same white salesmen. The white salesman was not terminated for that incident. The second African-American salesman returned to work at the dealership in January 2016 under a new manager, according to Janney.
In his ruling, the judge said Pendleton offered sufficient evidence of racial discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation to send the case to a jury trial. He also allowed Pendleton to seek punitive damages at the trial scheduled to begin Sept. 12.
According to Janney: “A lesson from the case is that dealerships should be cautious about who they place in management positions, check references on those individuals from previous supervisors — and not just from friends — and conduct thorough, legitimate and nonbiased investigations of discrimination complaints when they receive them.”