DENVER – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday against a Golden car dealership claiming managers and employees discriminated against other employees based on both their sex and race.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, claims Christopher’s Dodge Ram violated Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 when the managers repeatedly made sexual comments and acts toward both female and male employees, used racial slurs toward employees of color and fired employees in retaliation after the employees filed complaints about the managers’ alleged conduct.
The lawsuit was filed more than a year after the EEOC sent the company a letter, in September 2020, that found there was reasonable cause to believe the dealership had violated Title VII. Efforts to conciliate the matters did not end in a resolution, and in July, the EEOC notified the company “that conciliation efforts had been unsuccessful.”
The discriminatory charges center around a woman who claims she was sexually harassed throughout her employment at Christopher’s Dodge Ram and who says she was fired because she is a woman, and it also details other instances involving other employees who said they were discriminated against and harassed based on their race or sex.
The former employee who is the Charging Party, Katrina Schmidt, was hired by the dealership in November 2017 and, according to the lawsuit, had a manager wrap his arm around her neck and press his genital region against her chair and desk, had her breast grabbed by an employee, was called a “c---” and a “b----” and had a manager make repeated references to her sex life.
One of the other complainants in the lawsuit, Jaime Guerra, told Denver7 on Friday that working at Christopher's Dodge was a constant barrage of sexual comments and gestures.
“There were times that I would stand up just to go to the bathroom and they would whistle at me," Guerra said. "Sometimes I just didn’t want to get up and go to the bathroom.”
And then, she says, there was an incident in the downstairs file room at Christopher’s Dodge. She says she was cornered by a manager.
"I was completely shook and in disbelief at what had happened," Guerra said. "But I didn’t want to make a big deal about it because he was actually the owner’s son. I really needed the job at the time. I had a family to support.”
When approached at the dealership Friday afternoon, management declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Mary Jo O’Neill, the EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney, said the case made her gasp.
“This case and its egregiousness feels like the cases that I brought back in the ‘80s. I feel like we haven’t moved the needle a millimeter, and that’s just depressing. What I think is good is that young people are speaking out more and are not going to tolerate it,” she said.
The lawsuit claims the general manager of the dealership told Schmidt a year after she was hired that he would not hire another woman and then that she could not apply for a position as a finance manager because “women are too much drama.” It also says she was disciplined for the same type of conduct her male coworkers engaged in without any consequences.
The suit says the manager of the dealership had a complaint filed against him over alleged inappropriate touching just before Schmidt was hired and reprimanded him, but that he started harassing Schmidt right after she was hired. When she continued to complain about his and others’ alleged conduct, she was laughed at, and management took no action, according to the lawsuit.
The suit says she got permission in January 2019 to take her hour-long lunch break and returned in less than an hour, but a manager angrily demanded where she was and fired her. The next day, according to the suit, the manager who fired her said he had “fired the only c**t,” according to the EEOC. After that, the dealership management “agreed that [the dealership] should not hire any more female sales representatives,” the lawsuit alleges.
But the EEOC claims those type of actions and beliefs were pervasive at the dealership. It says that one manager suggested he would pay an employee for sex, asked a female employee to send him naked photos of herself, and made unwanted comments about a Black male employee’s penis and other physical features. It adds that the human resources director ogled women who worked there and that another female employee saw a manager looking at pornography on his computer.
Further, the Black male employee was subjected to racist comments, including being called the n-word, and other sexually suggestive comments and actions from a manager, the EEOC claims. He and others also reported the conduct to human resources, according to the suit, which says the conduct directed toward both female and male employees “was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment for the employees subjected to the harassment.”
Both Black and Latinx/Hispanic employees were also subjected to racist comments, including being called the N-word, “my Mexican friend,” and “b----r” by managers and other employees, the lawsuit says – some of which was also reported to human resources.
Some of the employees who filed complaints with human resources were fired shortly after doing so, the lawsuit claims. One woman was fired a month after reporting sexual harassment in June 2018; Schmidt was told to “shut her mouth” and “shut up” and told she would be fired if she complained again, the suit claims.
“I want to be heard and I think it’s important that they know that this isn’t okay," Guerra said. "And women, too. We should stand up for ourselves and say this isn’t okay.”
The lawsuit alleges the company discriminated against both men and women based on their sex, that employees were discriminated against based on their race or national origin and that employees were discriminated against when they were fired based on their sex and retaliated against for reporting the unwelcome behavior.
The lawsuit calls for a judge to issue permanent injunctions that prohibit the dealership from discriminating and retaliating in its employment practices, to force the dealership to provide equal employment opportunities and to “eradicate the effects of” its unlawful practices.
It also calls for the company to give backpay, possible frontpay, and other pecuniary, nonpecuniary and punitive relief to Schmidt for the alleged discriminatory actions against her.
“This is very egregious conduct, O’Neill said. “That people would have to put up with this just to make a living, it’s just unacceptable.”