Lawsuit claims unbearable ‘hostile racial harassment’ forced employee to resign from N.C. car dealership

Lawsuit claims unbearable ‘hostile racial harassment’ forced employee to resign from N.C. car dealership

CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - A lawsuit claims “hostile racial harassment” became so intolerable that it forced a former assistant manager to resign from Hendrick Toyota in Concord, North Carolina.

Former Hendrick employee Lance Blair filed the lawsuit against The Hendrick Companies, LLC., claiming that Phil St. George, the shop foreman of the Service Department, made racially derogatory remarks to and about Blair and other Black employees from 2014 until Blair resigned in late 2020.

Phil St. George is a white man and the lawsuit claims his alleged racist actions were tolerated by the service manager, Tim Hays, who is also white.

Among the alleged racist actions, the lawsuit claims St. George made monkey noises at Blair, calling him a “tint meter” - referring to his skin color being used to measure the legal level of window tinting, and stating that a Black employee who had been injured at the shop would not show any bruises because he was a “darkie.”

The complaint alleges that St. George put Blair’s picture on the screen saver of a computer used in the service area and would alter the photo to mock Blair.

“He blackened out one or more teeth and drew gold earrings to make him look like a thug; and another lime drew a hat to make him look like a Muslim,” the lawsuit reads.

Blair’s supervisor, who is also Black, allegedly saw St. George act in this manner and, in December 2019, went with Blair to complain to Tim Hays, the Service Department manager, about St. George throwing the banana peels and about the racist comments that he would make.\

“Hays shrugged it off, stating, incredibly, that that some people are just racist,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit alleges St. George would dangle a whole banana in Blair’s face and laugh, a taunt that allegedly continued into March 2020, angering other employees.

Blair’s health allegedly began to decline, leading him to need blood pressure medication. The lawsuit says he “internalized his humiliation over the mistreatment.”

Other coworkers told Blair that they had complained to managers several other times about St. George’s conduct towards him, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says “on information and belief” St. George was not disciplined in any manner, which “seemed to give others license to make racial comments.”

The dealership later confirmed that the now former employee in question - St. George - was terminated Oct. 2020 immediately following an investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that over the next few months, the problem got much broader in the shop and worse among white employees. The lawsuit claims there were constant jokes by white employees about “taking a knee for the team” after the death of George Floyd.

Other allegations in the complaint say St. George and other white employees at Hendrick Toyota Concord would make racist comments or share racist memes aimed at people including but not limited to Kobe Bryant, Colin Kaepernick, Michelle Obama and Jacob Blake.

The lawsuit says Blair’s experience at the workplace became unbearable, leading him to dread coming to work, being on edge and anxious. Blair allegedly called Human Resources about the problem and never received a call back.

In Sept. 2020, the lawsuit says Hays angrily accused Blair of stirring up trouble among employees and threatened his job for contacting Human Resources directly.]

“Plaintiff was shocked, as had never been written up in any manner during eight years of employment,” the lawsuit read.

At that point, the lawsuit says Blair asked if Hays was going to ask Human Resources to come address the issues in the department. When Hays did not respond, Blair told him that he quit.

The lawsuit says Blair resigned because the stress of the racialized tension was ruining his health and draining him emotionally.

Blair is seeking actual and compensatory damages and punitive damages in this lawsuit. Blair asks that all matters he tried before a jury of his peers.

Hendrick Toyota Concord provided a statement about the lawsuit.

“Discrimination in any form is wrong and unacceptable. A core value of our dealership is mutual respect for and among all of our team members. It is our practice to take seriously, thoroughly investigate and swiftly address reports of discrimination. That process was followed in this matter,” the statement read.

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