An AutoNation dealership in Texas has found itself at the center of a defamation lawsuit from one of its salesmen who is alleging that management brushed his former boss' abusive behavior and nonconsensual acts under the rug.
Brett Bland is suing AutoNation Acura Gulf Freeway of League City, Texas, along with his former boss, Jeremy Pratt, who he says created a "sexually hostile environment," the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Galveston County, Texas, late last month, Bland is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages, alleging that Pratt used sexually explicit "banter and innuendo" and gave his male subordinates non-consensual "purple nurples" -- the twisting of a person's nipple.
"He reinforced dominance over his male subordinates by regularly entering their enclosed offices, intentionally passing gas, and then laughing as they were forced to breathe soiled air," the lawsuit says.
Bland's attorney, Sean Buckley, declined to comment, and the dealership did not immediately return a request for comment to Automotive News.
Management allegedly "acquiesced and turned a blind eye" to Pratt's behavior. For example, the suit says Pratt used the dealership's computers and printing equipment to make "flyers" that mocked Bland and called him a "cancer," and distributed the documents throughout the store with no backlash from management.
In a separate episode, which ultimately led to Pratt's termination, Pratt sent out a group text message to his coworkers, including Bland, of a message that said, "Keep your children safe," and "You are receiving this because there may be a risk of sex offender activity in your area," with a picture of Bland, the suit says.
The message and Bland's picture was shown alongside a picture of a little girl who was being portrayed as victim or possible victim of sexual abuse, the suit says.
"Pratt deliberately, willfully and maliciously engaged in a smear campaign against [Bland] disparaging and defaming his business, his good name, and his reputation," the suit says. "Alternatively, Pratt's defamation was committed negligently or with gross negligence."
Soon after the incident, Pratt was terminated, the suit says, and afterwards, Bland alleges he was subjected to a policy called "eight or the gate," which means he would be fired if he did not sell at least eight vehicles per month.
However, weeks later, Bland claims management "backtracked" on the policy, the suit says.
"This is a pending legal matter on which we have no comment," an AutoNation spokesman wrote in a statement emailed to Automotive News, "other than to say that we previously investigated the matter several months ago and took appropriate action."