A lawyer representing a Florida dealership group accused of gender discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is blasting the complaint as having no "factual or legal basis."
Thomas Gonzalez, on behalf of Ferman Automotive Group and Cigar City Motors of Tampa, Fla., argued in a filing last month in U.S. District Court in Florida that the EEOC lawsuit fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The lawsuit was filed in August on behalf of a former female employee at Ferman's Tampa Harley-Davidson dealership, one of five Harley-Davidson dealerships owned by the defendants.
Ferman and Cigar City Motors -- which, according to the lawsuit, operate as an "integrated enterprise or single employer by virtue of their common management" -- are accused of failing to promote a former sales manager, Virginia Duncan, to general manager because of her gender.
In the dealership group's response, Gonzalez said the complaint "pleads only conclusions and does not allege facts which would state a plausible claim of discrimination."
In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that the dealership passed over Duncan despite her experience as a general manager at a Harley-Davidson dealership, "extensive knowledge" of the brand and operations and a successful performance as a sales manager.
Throughout her employment at the store, from March 2012 to June 2015, Duncan showed an interest in being elevated to general manager, the lawsuit says.
She started participating in a Ferman Vice President Gary Bang's mentorship program in May 2013, where she was required to write her eulogy and prepare book reports and was expected to meet regularly with Bang, according to the lawsuit.
The program was a required step if she wanted to become a general manager, the lawsuit says, and a hoop that none of her male counterparts, who went on to become general managers, had to jump through.
During her time with the company, there were at least nine vacancies for Harley-Davidson general manager positions, all of which were filled by men, the lawsuit says.
"Duncan was as qualified, or more qualified, than each of the males that were selected for the general manager role," the lawsuit says. "Duncan was recommended as the best qualified candidate for promotion by the departing general managers on at least two occasions."
When a general manager position opened in January 2015 at the Tampa store where she already worked, Duncan was given a checklist of items to complete to be promoted to general manager, according to the lawsuit. But she was never interviewed for the promotion. Instead, Steven Snell, an assistant manager at another Ferman Harley-Davidson location, was hired as the store's general manager.
He didn't have experience as a general manager, according to the lawsuit, nor did he participate in the mentorship program, the lawsuit alleges. The following day, Duncan resigned.
Ferman officials declined to answer questions about the case.
"As a practice, we do not comment on pending legal matters. We at Ferman strongly value all our employees and firmly believe in treating all our employees fairly, regardless of gender, race, faith, creed or any other factor," a Ferman spokeswoman wrote in an email to Automotive News. "We are currently researching the matter, as it appears to have taken place several years ago. Nonetheless, we will take any action necessary uphold our values of treating all our employees equally and with respect."
The lawsuit seeks back pay for Duncan and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages for "malicious and reckless conduct."
The EEOC is also requesting that the court order the owners to execute policies and programs that provide equal access to employment opportunities for women.
Ferman Automotive ranks No. 83 on the Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with 21 stores and retail sales of 12,229 new vehicles in 2017.