A Vehicle For Racism

Isn't selling cars for Republic Industries hard enough without your boss cracking racist jokes all the time?

Montgomery's attorney, Lloyd Glasser, argued in court papers that all those who were transferred to Kia were put there not because of their colors but because of their job performances. Three of the plaintiffs admittedly struggled to sell cars but claim it was because of a racist work atmosphere. Guzman, for instance, says Montgomery once called him a "fat fucking spic" after he asked to go home because of a rash caused by his inner thighs rubbing together.

"I lost my self-respect there," Guzman says. He says he was fired after the lawsuit was filed when a random drug test taken at the dealership found traces of marijuana.

While Gibson, Marcellus, and Guzman may have struggled selling cars, even Montgomery conceded in his deposition that both Hite and Andrews were "accomplished and experienced" car salesmen. But he also said their sales dropped off. Hite and Andrews say their sales numbers decreased only after Montgomery stopped approving their deals.

Before the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiffs went to the Broward County Human Rights Division and filed complaints (which were later incorporated into the civil case). Things only got worse after that, they say.

After the complaint was filed, Andrews and Hite say they were singled out and gradually forced from the dealership through a combination of petty disciplinary actions and deliberate obstacles in getting their deals approved by management. Andrews quit in December, not long after the lawsuit was filed. Hite was fired for wrongfully signing a credit application and contends in his lawsuit that the firing was in retaliation for his complaint.

Republic Industries, which owns hundreds of car dealerships and is expected to do $19 billion in sales this year, had another of its companies, AutoNation USA, investigate the claims of discrimination. Montgomery was suspended for two weeks without pay while the investigation was under way. He was later reinstated, indicating that he was cleared of wrongdoing. Hollywood Honda managers and lawyers refused to comment.

While Montgomery stayed on at Hollywood Honda, Andrews says he decided to get out of the "car world" altogether to concentrate on selling Amway products. But both he and Hite ended up back in car sales, both of them at King Auto Mall in Fort Lauderdale, where Hite recently served a stint as a used-car manager and Andrews was named salesman of the month.

"I did nothing wrong [at Hollywood Honda]," Hite says. "Did nothing but work my tail off and try to take care of my family, and they ended up crushing me. They demoralized me and my family totally."

Both men blame Republic Industries management for their ordeal as much as they blame Montgomery. One former manager, Mike Furey, said in a deposition that he was told by another manager, Mike Capuzzo, to "make it difficult" for Andrews and Hite to make deals after the complaint was filed. Andrews and Hite also say that Kia manager Bob Seitz was aware of the racism. They claim he told them that Montgomery was racist and that the only reason Hite was never made a manager was because he was black. Seitz didn't return phone messages left by New Times.

The dealership counters in court documents that no one complained about the alleged racism to management, making it impossible for them to respond. In one court document, Alan Danz, Hollywood Honda's lawyer, argues that Andrews, in effect, seemed only to think that "Ebonics Special" was funny: "Andrews laughed when he was told the jokes, never complained about it, and he asked for a copy of it."

Andrews says he got a copy of "Ebonics Special" for one reason: To use as evidence against Montgomery. The little racist joke tract now sits in the court file as evidence in the case against the dealership.

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com

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