A Vehicle For Racism
The two black men say they found the jokes repulsive and regarded the man who was telling them as a ridiculous racist, but they laughed anyway. Laughed when they heard their white boss tell jokes that portrayed black men as deadbeat, diseased whoremongers and rapists.
Charles Hite and Gregory Andrews say they laughed not with their boss of course, but at him. Hite and Andrews made their living by selling cars at Hollywood Honda, which is owned by Wayne Huizenga's massive automobile-and-garbage company, Republic Industries. The man telling the jokes was David Montgomery, the dealership's new-cars sales manager, according to the federal discrimination lawsuits that have been filed on behalf of Hite, Andrews, and three other former, minority employees of the auto dealership.
The suit contends that Montgomery read the jokes out loud in November 1997 from a little tract titled "Ebonics Special," which is about a black college football player named Leroy who is flunking out because he can't pass his English exams. To save him a professor allows Leroy to use ebonics instead of English on an exam. The professor gave him words and Leroy would have to use them in sentences. Examples:
Honor: "At da rape trial, da judge ax my buddy, 'Who was honor first?'"
Fortify: "I asked the ho' how much? She said 'fortify.'"
Hotel: "I give my girlfriend da crabs an da hotel everybody."
Foreclose: "If I pays chile suppote dis month, I'll have no money foreclose."
Andrews and Hite, not surprisingly, were offended by the jokes, especially considering the time Montgomery chose to tell them: When the salesmen were in Montgomery's office trying to get the manager to approve their deals with customers. Andrews says he remembers walking into Montgomery's office with a deal involving a $2500 profit (from which Andrews would be paid a commission), and Montgomery again began reading a snippet from "Ebonics Special," which he also passed out to other employees, Andrews and Hite say.
"I said, 'Hey man, not right now, I'm serious about this deal,'" Andrews claims. Andrews wrote in a sworn affidavit that Montgomery "got upset, and thereafter I got no cooperation from him at all."
The distribution of the racist tract is one of many charges made against Montgomery and the Honda dealership in two lawsuits filed by Fort Lauderdale attorney G. Ware Cornell, Jr. One suit includes Andrews and three other minority Hollywood Honda employees as plaintiffs, the other has Hite as the sole complainant. Both of the civil suits have yet to go to court.
The suits also allege that Montgomery systematically segregated the Honda dealership by relegating minorities to the Kia dealership next door (which is also owned by Republic Industries), made racist slurs, and OK'd deals for white salespeople that he wouldn't approve for blacks.
Montgomery -- who is still a manager at Hollywood Honda -- refused to comment on the case when contacted by New Times but has denied the allegations in court papers. Montgomery was made manager of the new-cars division at Hollywood Honda after Republic Industries bought the dealership last year for $33 million. Montgomery said in his deposition that he not only didn't distribute "Ebonics Special" but that he never saw it until after the lawsuit was filed. He said under oath that he, too, found it racist and offensive. Hollywood Honda is also mounting a sustained legal fight against the charges.
After Andrews' complaint about "Ebonics Special" and a dispute over days off, Montgomery told Andrews and Hite they were never to work in the Honda show room again, according to the suit. Andrews says they were given a choice of going to Kia or to the used-cars division; both choices were seen as demotions.
"We went to Kia. Montgomery didn't want blacks in the show room at Honda, so all the black people went to Kia," Hite says. "The end of the game was to get all the black folks out of the show room."
By Montgomery's own admission in a sworn deposition, the Kia dealership was staffed solely by minorities, except for its manager, who is white. The Kia brand name is less well known and the Korean imports don't sell nearly as well as Hondas. And, while the Honda dealership is expansive, with a show room full of shiny new Accords and Preludes behind a 30-foot-high tinted glass façade, the Kia dealership has no show room and consists only of a lot and a renovated gas station. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits describe the Kia operation as if it were the slave quarters to the Honda dealership's plantation mansion.
The three other plaintiffs -- Rickey Gibson, Samy Marcellus, and Miguel Guzman -- all say they were unfairly relegated to Kia. Guzman, the lone Hispanic plaintiff, claims that, before he was actually transferred, Montgomery threatened to send him to Kia with the other "gorillas." His father, Marcos Guzman, a former top seller and accomplished salesman at Hollywood Honda who is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, testified that he once heard Montgomery, referring to minorities, say that the Honda show room wasn't going to look like a "jungle."
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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