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PRESS RELEASE
12-8-09

Phoenix Car Dealers to Pay $500,000 to Settle Suit For Race and Sex Harassment, Retaliation

EEOC Says Bell Road Kia and Bell Road Automall Tolerated Hostile Workplace

PHOENIX – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that Bell Road Kia and Bell Road Automall will pay five former employees a total of one half of a million dollars and furnish significant remedial relief in the form of a consent decree to settle a lawsuit brought by the federal agency alleging racial harassment, sexual harassment and retaliation.

In its lawsuit, filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in federal district court, the EEOC charged that both dealerships knew about and tolerated a work environment permeated by sexual and racial harassment (EEOC v. SWMW Management, Inc., Bell Road Automall, Inc., and Big Bell 21 LLC, doing business as Bell Road Kia, CV 08-00946-PHX-GMS). According to the EEOC, the hostile work environment allegedly included the following:

  • Female employees being referred to as “c--t” and “whore”;
  • Female employees being propositioned for sexual favors;
  • Widespread pornography on workplace computers;
  • Desk managers viewing the pornography together and openly commenting about it;
  • One desk manager masturbating while sitting behind a female employee;
  • Frequent use of racial and ethnic slurs, such as “n----r” and “wetback”; and
  • A manager telling a black employee that he was only needed when there was a black customer so he could “speak his ebonics” and close the deal. 

“The incidents of sexual and racial harassment in this case were shocking,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the Phoenix District Office, which originated the action. “Defendants’ repeated failure to take corrective action and their resort to retaliation were equally disturbing. This settlement should remind all employers to actively root out harassment and retaliation from the workplace.”

The EEOC maintained in the case that despite the openly hostile work environment, the dealerships failed to take appropriate corrective action against the known harassers and instead retaliated against employees who challenged the discriminatory conduct. All five of the charging parties and class members were demoted, terminated, or forced out (constructively discharged) after they raised complaints about the harassment.

Class member Julie Blakley said, “We were repeatedly subjected to degrading harassment and the managers made it known to us that they did not take our complaints seriously. Our exposure to abuse was prolonged by the fact that employees did not receive adequate training on preventing sexual harassment or on the process for filing complaints.”

Brian Netzel, another discrimination victim, added, “No one should have to endure a work environment where blatant disregard for human dignity is rampant and employees who attempt to stop such activity are met with ostracism and threats. I felt that the company allowed sales managers to run rampant because they were making the dealership a lot of money.”

In addition to requiring training for all employees on sexual and racial harassment and retaliation, the three-year consent decree filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona requires the dealerships to institute policies and procedures to prevent sexual and racial harassment and retaliation from recurring. The decree also includes an injunction prohibiting the dealerships from retaliating against employees for complaining about illegal harassment.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov