Four car salesmen won a $19 million discrimination judgment from their former employer, the Asbury Automotive Group, on the grounds that the company allowed racist behavior on the job.
The plaintiffs had asked the jury for $17.5 million.
The two-year legal case, brought by Paul Kent, Jahaeel Hardy, Marcus Arnold and Carlos Barfield, may be appealed. Nevertheless, supporters are jubilant.
"We have opened up a can of whoopass down here," said African American Chamber of Commerce President Roy Jay. "We were not a party to the suit, nor do we expect anything. We are simply glad to see justice served."
The African American Chamber lent a hand in trying to reach a settlement in the Federal District Court case before trial, without success.
The four plaintiffs argued that Asbury – like Scott Thomason Auto Group, the previous owner – was guilty of racial remarks, slanders and discriminatory practices by top management.
The staff of Thomason was found to have discriminated against employees during the 1990s – prompting Scott Thomason to sell the Toyota dealership altogether. Asbury, also, sold its stake in the company and no longer does business in Oregon.
Jay says that the chamber has gathered information from various sources that substantiate the claims made by the plaintiffs.
Jay said an investigation by the chamber turned up a former White employee who made a cell phone recording of racial slurs by an Asbury management supervisor.
He said allegations against Asbury employees included racial harassment against staff as well as customers.
"I was a firsthand witness to this, when I was buying a car at Gladstone Honda," Jay said. When he overheard employees making racist comments about Latinos, "I turned right around and told them I was taking my $30,000 elsewhere."
Gladstone was owned by Asbury at the time.
"It is unfortunate in this day and age that African Americans and other minorities are faced with a growing level discriminatory and racial injustices in the workplace," Jay said.
Asbury Auto Group merged with Thomason Toyota in 1998; within a few years, the company was settling multiple lawsuits over racial discrimination. The Stanford, Conn.-based Asbury Automotive Group has 90 retail auto and truck dealerships nationwide.