Lawsuit claims Gerry Lane harassed employees
Gerald R. Lane and his company, Gerry Lane Enterprises, were sued today in district court by one former and four current Gerry Lane Chevrolet employees who allege Gerald Lane subjected them to "constant harassment, abuse and [a] degrading environment." The suit, which you can see here, claims Lane uses racial slurs and harasses "black salesmen on a weekly if not daily basis. He refers to his car dealership as his 'plantation' and tells the sales staff to 'pick his cotton.' "
Plaintiffs say they complained to management and were told to ignore the harassment because Lane is "old-school" and will be gone soon.
Gerry Lane General Manager Cedric Patton, who's also a part-owner, says company officials hadn't seen the suit and wouldn't comment on the specific allegations.
"We can deny, however, that any employees were mistreated in any way by any member of management," Patton says in a prepared statement. "Gerry Lane Chevrolet prides itself on maintaining a workplace free from unlawful harassment or discrimination and has a long history of hiring, retaining and promoting quality individuals of all different backgrounds, regardless of race or any other protected characteristic."
Patton says the company will not comment beyond today's statement until the suit is resolved.
The five plaintiffs all work or have worked at Gerry Lane Chevrolet on Florida Boulevard. Four are described as black, one as white. The white employee claims Lane called him by a slur commonly used against Italians.
The suit also alleges that Lane's personal assistant makes inappropriate sexual advances toward the staff and that Lane invades the personal space of employees and touches employees' genitalia and buttocks.
As required by law, the plaintiffs say they sent the company a notice of intent to file suit 30 days before filing; the petition says the current employees have been subjected to further harassment in retaliation for their decision to sue over the past month.
Attorney Joseph Long, who filed the suit, says another plaintiff will be added Friday and that more will be added in the future, although he wouldn't say how many. The suit doesn't ask for a specific amount of money. Long says the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating, and plaintiffs are waiting for a letter from the EEOC that would give them the right to sue in federal court, where punitive damages are possible.
Long says punitive damages are not available at the state level, but filing in state court allows attorneys to begin discovery. The EEOC has not responded to a request for confirmation of an investigation.
"We look forward to having the opportunity to vindicate ourselves in the appropriate legal forum," Patton says.
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