Court Approves Settlement of EEOC Lawsuit in Colorado Against National Car Dealer
DENVER -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that a federal district court approved a $562,500 settlement of a race discrimination lawsuit brought by the federal agency and private counsel against Lithia Motors, Inc. and Lithia Cherry Creek Dodge on behalf of three African American former employees who were targeted for harassment and retaliation. Lithia is a national car dealership with headquarters in Medford, Ore.
In the case, James Witherspoon filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC’s Denver office in 2003 after he received no response to filing an internal complaint with Lithia. Witherspoon alleged that the general manager, who transferred to Cherry Creek Dodge from another Lithia dealership, told him that he would not tolerate “B-P” (“black people”), and that he had fired “some of you people” already. This general manager had in fact fired three black salesmen at his first staff meeting. The discrimination against Witherspoon, including racial slurs, only increased after he filed the internal complaint, forcing him out of his job. However, Lithia’s internal investigation found no problems.
“Too often, employers use their resources to wear down employees financially and emotionally when they seek a remedy for discrimination,” said Witherspoon, commenting on the case. “I am extremely appreciative that the EEOC has worked so hard to compensate me for the losses I suffered.” In addition to the monetary relief, the four-year consent decree provides significant injunctive relief, including the review and implementation of company anti-discrimination policies and procedures, and the provision of training on equal employment opportunity law. The EEOC’s suit was filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in September 2005, after the agency first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process. Federal District Court Judge Phillip S. Figa approved the consent decree in the case, EEOC v. Lithia Motors, Inc. and Lithia Cherry Creek Dodge, Inc. case (CIV 05-cv-01901-PSF-MJW).
EEOC Phoenix District Director Chester Bailey, whose office has jurisdiction for Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, said, “The EEOC investigated the charges of discrimination and learned that the general manager singled out only the salesmen of color --four African Americans and one Hispanic. The manger did not fire any Caucasian salesmen. Today, more than 40 years after the EEOC’s creation, employers should be well aware that such discrimination has no place in the workplace.”
Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary O’Neill said, “We take racial harassment claims very seriously at the EEOC. Employers should get the message that tolerating race discrimination will affect their bottom line, and they should do everything in their power to prevent it.”
Racial harassment is a form of race discrimination which includes racial jokes, ethnic slurs, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual's race or color. Such conduct may create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interfere with the individual's work performance, in violation of federal law.
Patricia Bangert, private counsel for Witherspoon and two other former employees, said, “This has been a painful experience for the employees. Racial discrimination is an assault upon an individual's self-esteem and dignity -- an assault that can only be stopped by brave people, such as these, who stand up and oppose it, and good companies, like Lithia, who are willing to put in place policies to prevent it in the future.”
EEOC’s Denver-based Associate Regional Attorney Joseph Mitchell, said, “This settlement allows the former employees to move on with their lives and should ensure a healthy work environment for current and future workers. In addition to providing a substantial amount of monetary relief to the victims, this consent decree puts in place safeguards to improve the company’s workplace policies and practices going forward.”
According to its web site (www.lithia.com), “Lithia Motors, Inc. is one of the largest full-service new vehicle retailers in the United States with 94 stores and 186 franchises in 12 states in the Western United States.”
The EEOC is the federal government agency responsible for enforcing the nation's anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Additional information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on March 16, 2006.
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